Thu, Feb

Why So Many Say ‘Thank You’ to a Cosby Prosecution

URBAN PERSPECTIVE--Disgraced actor-comedian Bill Cosby had two words to say to Pennsylvania District Judge Elizabeth McHugh when she ruled that he must stand trial for sexual assault. The words were “thank you.” The two words were more than simply a case of Cosby being polite. The words were vindication for dozens of women. These are the women who came forth to say that Cosby drugged, fondled, molested, abused, intimidated, and of course, raped them over the course of many years. They suffered mightily for coming forth. They were lambasted from pillar to post as liars, cheats, sluts, publicity seekers, and every critic’s favorite, gold diggers. 

Thousands of others never bought Cosby’s long, loud and bitter denials that he was the innocent victim of a giant con game, or the serial denier’s favorite, the victim of a sinister plot by take your pick: the “white man,” “white media,” “white establishment” or simply some unnamed, nebulous white conspirators to bring down a fabulously popular, rich, supremely successful black man. They also said “thank you.” 

There were also more than a few legal experts who did not buy the virtual article of faith that there were no legal grounds to prosecute him because the statute of limitations had long since run out on most of the claims. There were just too many alleged victims. That meant that there had to be a case somewhere that fit the bill for a legal prosecution. 

Meanwhile, Cosby fed into the conspiracy paranoia and the public trashing of the women by filing motion after motion to duck a prosecution, and defamation of character counter suit after countersuit against his various women accusers. His holding action sufficiently muddied the stream to cast doubt while delaying what was almost certain to be the inevitable. That was his painfully long delayed plop into a court docket. 

In the much cited unsealed affidavit Cosby swore to in 2005, he confessed to giving drugs to one woman and getting drugs for other women he wanted to have sex with. This was tantamount to a smoking gun confirmation of what many of his alleged victims claimed, and that was that he plied them with drink and drugs before he sexually waylaid them. 

Even without the affidavit, it was not true that a sexual abuser could get away with their crime simply by waiting out the calendar. More than two dozen states have no statute of limitation depending on circumstances in the nature and type of sexual assault. If the evidence was compelling, a Cosby could indeed be prosecuted even decades after the assault in those states. 

This gross misconception about prosecuting sexual crimes implanted the dangerous public notion that rape or sexual abuse could be minimalized, marginalized or even mocked because the clock had wound down on when the crime could or even should be prosecuted. A Cosby prosecution rightly tosses the ugly glare back on the wrong public perceptions about rape and sexual abuse and how easily the crime can still be blown off. And it is. 

The Iowa Law Review, in March, 2014, found that rape is routinely underreported in dozens of cities. The rape claims were dismissed out of hand with little or no investigation. The result was there were no reports, no statistical counts, and no records of an attack.

The study zeroed in on the prime reason for this, namely disbelief. It’s that disbelief that assures men such as Cosby are reflexively believed when they scream foul at their accuser. They lambaste their character and motives. If things get too hot, they toss out a few dollars in hush money settlements and the screams are even louder that it was all a shakedown operation in the first place and the victim is further demonized. 

This wasn’t the only reason it took so long to prosecute Cosby. He wasn’t just another rich, mediagenic celebrity whose wealth, fame and celebrity status routinely shielded him from criminal charges. Cosby and men like him have deep enough pockets to hire a small army of the best PR flacks around to spin, point fingers, and hector the media that their guy’s pristine reputation is being drug through the mud precisely because of their fame, wealth, talent and, of course, goodwill. 

Cosby was a special case even by the standards of the rich and famed celebrity world. For a decade he reigned as America’s father figure, not black father figure, but father figure. He embodied the myths, fantasies, and encrusted beliefs about the role that a caring, loving, engaged dad is supposed to have with his family. This rendered him almost untouchable when it came to casting any dirt on his character. That’s all past now, Cosby is now just Cosby, the accused rapist, and that’s reason enough to say “thank you.” 

(Earl Ofari Hutchinson is President of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable and an occasional contributor to CityWatch. For more Hutchinson insight.)  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Trump's Not-So-Secret Strategy: Violent Anti-Trump Protesters

POLITICS-Many political analysts have concluded that President Obama's campaign strategies in 2008 and 2012 stem from his use of, and relationship with, the media.  It's not too hard to conclude that Donald J. Trump is similarly attuned to the media and what Americans want to see and hear...so whether you love, hate, respect, despise, or otherwise tolerate Trump, you have to hand it to those violent anti-Trump protestors:  they will assure his electoral victory! 

The intensity, ambivalence, and angst of this 2016 election make this election one for the record books, and one for the history books.  Everyone has their own wistful and/or useless idea as to why this is, but my own silly $.02 is that we've had not one but two Presidents who appeared to come across as representing the Everyman but ended up enriching the powerful while threatening the economic future of Joe/Jane American. 

Couple that with far-reaching decisions that stem as far back as Reagan and Clinton, and throw in some blatant shenanigans of the Democratic and Republican political leaderships ("Establishments", I believe they're called?), and you've got a LOT of Americans who feel left out of a safe, secure, and appropriate future because of a Washington/Wall Street elite that has left Americans hanging by their fingernails for years to decades. 

So enter Trump, Clinton, and Sanders. Trump's most erstwhile supporters acknowledge his need to "put a sock in it" but recognize he's ALWAYS in the news, and saying things that others have been thinking (and with the potential to end "political correctness").   

Clinton's most erstwhile supporters acknowledge her shady dealings and corporate ties but recognize she's got the most political experience of all the candidates (and she embodies the dreams of many American girls and women).   

Sanders' most erstwhile supporters acknowledge his need to better explain how he's going to explain how he'll pay for his lofty plans to improve the lives of Americans with respect to education and health care but recognize his sincerity and pointing out the problems of our economic and political power structure. 

Yet what does Trump have going for him that Clinton and Sanders don't?  After all, neither he nor the other two Democratic frontrunners are spring chickens, or are all that gifted in the eloquence or charm departments.  But he does have a "not so secret" weapon that is in plain sight. 

And it doesn't cost Trump a penny (except, perhaps, in security costs). 

Trump has those violent protestors, jumping on and attacking policemen and their police cars, and creating chaos at all his rallies from Chicago to Albuquerque to Costa Mesa. 

Inasmuch as many have decried "racist overtones" of those supporting Trump--or from Trump himself--there have just have NOT been any violent, police-assaulting protestors at the Sanders or Clinton rallies. 

Many have wondered and hypothesized as to the origin of these violent protestors--and even former GOP competitor and opponent Marco Rubio has decried these protestors.  Rubio has in part blamed Trump for stirring up the pot, and promoting violence, but he's pointed out that the protestors pose a problem.

But they also will probably get enough independent, fed-up-with-all-the-candidates-and-political-shenanigans Americans to vote for Trump.  After all, if these violent lovelies attack Trump and his followers (including those who are doing nothing more than wearing a T-shirt or holding a sign), then there will be plenty who conclude, "They're jerks, they're protesting Trump, so it seems that I should therefore vote for the one they're protesting." 

The origins and background and stories behind these protestors, who appear to be organized, funded, and backed by any number of sordid, shady entities and who have also created some of the more violent protests of the Black Lives Matter Movement, is anyone's guess. 

George Soros?  The American Communist Party?  Hillary Clinton?  The Tooth Fairy's evil twin?

Perhaps it's a reminder that inasmuch as we all have been trained to fear the Radical Right, it's possible that the Radical Left is by far the greatest threat to us at this time in our history.  After all, the hideously-failed dream of Venezuela has really thrown the dangers of socialism into the spotlight. 

And, of course, while most Americans have rightfully learned to despise Wall Street, it's either the European or American excesses of socialism that have--under all sorts of guises of compassion, diversity, and inclusion--denied ordinary, hard-working, and honest citizens the opportunity to succeed while further empowering the already-empowered. 

But regardless of who is protesting, and regardless of why most Americans are so angry, there are two points that it's hoped we can all agree upon: 

1) We're all angry, we're rightfully angry, and if you're not angry you're not paying attention to the misery of your neighbors...and it will try our souls to debate and organize without descending into violence. 

2) If you DO give in to your lesser natures and descend into violence, you've just handed your opponent the ultimate weapon to use against you. 

And, at this time, perhaps not of his creation but certainly with his media-savvy knowledge and awareness, Trump's opponents who choose the path of violence will certainly put him over the top to victory come this November.  


(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  [email protected]. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)


The Desperate Plight of Petro-States … Oil Economies Head for the Unknown 

EDITOR’S PICK--Pity the poor petro-states. Once so wealthy from oil sales that they could finance wars, mega-projects, and domestic social peace simultaneously, some of them are now beset by internal strife or are on the brink of collapse as oil prices remain at ruinously low levels. Unlike other countries, which largely finance their governments through taxation, petro-states rely on their oil and natural gas revenues. Russia, for example, obtains about 50% of government income that way; Nigeria, 60%; and Saudi Arabia, a whopping 90%. When oil was selling at $100 per barrel or above, as was the case until 2014, these countries could finance lavish government projects and social welfare operations, ensuring widespread popular support.  Now, with oil below $50 and likely to persist at that level, they find themselves curbing public spending and fending off rising domestic discontent or even incipient revolt.

At the peak of their glory, the petro-states played an outsized role in world affairs.  The members of OPEC, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, earned an estimated $821 billion from oil exports in 2013 alone. Flush with cash, they were able to exert influence over other countries through a wide variety of aid and patronage operations. Venezuela, for example, sought to counter U.S. influence in Latin America via its Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), a cooperative network of mostly leftist governments. Saudi Arabia spread its influence throughout the Islamic world in part by financing the efforts of its ultra-conservative Wahhabi clergy to establish madrassas (religious academies) throughout the Islamic world. Russia, under Vladimir Putin, used its prodigious oil wealth torebuild and refurbish its military, which had largely disintegrated following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Lesser members of the petro-state club like Angola, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan became accustomed to regular fawning visits from the presidents and prime ministers of major oil-importing countries.

That, of course, was then, and this is now. While these countries still matter, what worries these presidents and prime ministers now is the growing likelihood of civil violence or even state collapse. Take, for example, Venezuela, long an ardent foe of U.S. policy in Latin America, but today the potential site of a future bloody civil war between supporters and opponents of the current government. Similar kinds of internal strife and civil disorder are likely in oil-producing states like Algeria and Nigeria, where the potential for the further growth of terrorist violence amid chaos is always high.

Some petro-states like Venezuela and Iraq already appear to be edging up to the brink of collapse. Others like Russia and Saudi Arabia will be forced to reorient their economies if they hope to avoid such future outcomes. Whatever their degree of risk, all of them are already experiencing economic hardship, leaving their leaders under growing pressure to somehow alter course in the bleakest of circumstances -- or face the consequences.

A Busted Business Model

Petro-states are different from other countries because the fates of their governing institutions are so deeply woven into the boom-and-bust cycles of the international petroleum economy. The challenges they face are only compounded by the unnaturally close ties between their political leaderships and senior officials of their state-owned or state-controlled oil and natural gas industries. Historically, their rulers have placed close allies or even family members in key industry positions, ensuring continuing government control and in many cases personal enrichment as well. In Russia, for example, the management of Gazprom, the state-controlled natural gas company, and Rosneft, the state-owned oil company, is almost indistinguishable from the senior leadership in the Kremlin, with both groups answering to President Putin. A similar pattern holds for Venezuela, where the government keeps the state-owned company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA), on a tight leash, and in Saudi Arabia, where the royal family oversees the operations of the state-owned Saudi Aramco.

In 2016, one thing is finally clear, however: the business model for these corporatized states is busted. The most basic assumption behind their operation -- that global oil demand will continue to outpace world petroleum supplies and ensure high prices into the foreseeable future -- no longer holds.  Instead, in what for any petro-state is a nightmarish, upside-down version of that model, supply, not demand, is forging ahead, leaving the market flooded with fossil fuels.

Most analysts, including those at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), now believe that increases in energy efficiency, the spread of affordable alternative energy sources (especially wind and solar), slowing worldwide economic growth, and concern over climate change will continue to put a damper on fossil fuel demand in the years ahead.  Meanwhile, the oil industry -- now equipped with fracking technology and other advanced extractive techniques -- will continue to boost supplies. It’s a formula for keeping prices low. In fact, a growing number of analysts are convinced that world oil demand will in the not-so-distant future reach a peak and begin a long-termdecline, ensuring that large reserves of petroleum will be left in the ground. For the petro-states, all of this means persistent pain unless they can find a new business model that is somehow predicated on a permanent low-oil-price environment.

These states vary in both their willingness and ability to respond to this new reality effectively. Some are too deeply committed to their existing business model (and its associated leadership system) to consider significant changes; others, increasingly aware of the need to do something, find almost insuperable structural roadblocks in the way; and a third group, recognizing the desperate need for change, is attempting a total economic overhaul of its oil economies. In recent weeks, examples of all three types – Venezuela for the first, Nigeria the second, and Saudi Arabia the third -- have surfaced in the news.

Venezuela: A Nation on the Brink

Venezuela claims the world’s largest proven reserves of petroleum, an estimated 298 billion barrels of oil. In past decades, the exploitation of this vast fossil fuel patrimony has ensured incredible wealth for foreign companies and Venezuelan elites alike. After assuming the presidency in 1999, however, Hugo Chávez sought to channel the bulk of this wealth to Venezuela’s poor and working classes by forcing foreign firms to partner with the state-owned oil firm PdVSA and redirecting that company’s profits to government spending programs. Billions of dollars were funneled into state-directed “missions” to the poor, lifting millions of Venezuelans out of poverty. In 2002, when the company’s long-serving managers rebelledagainst these moves, Chávez simply replaced them with his own party loyalists and the diversion of funds continued.

In the wake of the ousting of that original management team, the country’s oil production began to decline.  With prices running at or above $100 per barrel, this initially seemed to make little difference as money continued to pour into government coffers and those missions to the poor kept right on going. What Chavez didn’t do, however, was create the national equivalent of a rainy-day fund.  Little of the oil money was channeled into a sovereign wealth fund for more problematic moments, nor was any invested in other kinds of industries that might in time have generated streams of non-fossil-fuel income for the government.

As a result, when prices began to drop in the fall of 2014, Chavez’s presidential successor, Nicolás Maduro, faced a triple calamity: diminished revenues for social services, scant savings to draw upon, and no alternative sources of income. Not surprisingly, as a new impoverishment spread, many former Chavistas lost faith in the regime and, in last December’s parliamentary elections, voted for emboldened opposition candidates.

Today, Venezuela is a nation living under an officially declared “state of emergency,” politically riven, experiencing food riots and other violence, and possibly on the brink of collapse. According to the IMF, the economycontracted by 5.7% in 2015 and is expected to diminish by another 8% this year -- more, that is, than any other country on the planet. Inflation is out of control, unemployment and crime are soaring, and what little money Venezuela had in its rainy-day account has largely been spent. Only China has been willing to lend it money to pay off its debts. If Beijingchooses to hold back when the next payments come due this fall, the country could face default. Opposition leaders in the National Assembly seek to oustMaduro and move ahead with various reforms, but the government is using its control of the courts to block such efforts, and the nation remains in a state of paralysis.

Nigeria: Continuing Disorder

Nigeria possesses the largest oil and natural gas reserves in sub-Saharan Africa. The exploitation of those reserves has long proved immensely profitable for foreign companies like Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron and also for well-connected Nigerian elites.  Very little of this wealth, however, has trickled down to those living in the Niger Delta region in the south of the country where most of the oil and gas is produced. Opposition to the central government in Abuja, the capital, to which the oil income flows, has long been strong in the Delta, leading to periodic outbursts of violence. Successive federal administrations have promised a more equitable allocation of oil revenues, but a promise this has remained.

From 2006 to 2009, Nigeria was wracked by an insurgency spearheaded by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, a militant groupseeking to redirect oil revenues to the country’s impoverished southern states.  In 2009, when President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua offered the militants an amnesty and monthly cash payments, the insurgency died down.  His successor, Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner, promised to respect the amnesty and channel more funds to the region.

For a while, high oil prices enabled Jonathan to make good on some of his promises, even as entrenched elites in Abuja continued to pocket a substantial percentage of the country’s petroleum income. When prices began to plummet, however, he was confronted with mounting challenges.  Pervasivecorruption turned people against the government, feeding recruits into Boko Haram, the terror movement then growing in the country’s northern reaches; money intended for soldiers in the Nigerian army disappeared into the pockets of military elites, subverting efforts to fight the insurgents. In national elections held a year ago, Muhammadu Buhari, a former general who vowed to crack down on corruption, rescue the economy, and defeat Boko Haram, took the presidency from Jonathan.

Since assuming office, Buhari has demonstrated a grasp of Nigeria’s structural weaknesses, especially its overwhelming dependency on oil monies, along with a determination to overcome them. As promised, he has launched a serious crackdown on the sort of corruption that is a commonplace feature of petro-states, firing officials accused of blatant thievery.  At the same time, he has stepped up military pressure on Boko Haram, for the first time putting a crimp in that group’s brutal activities. Crucially, he has announced plans to diversify the economy, placing more emphasis on agriculture and non-fossil-fuel-related industries, which might, if pursued seriously, help diminish Nigeria’s increasingly disastrous reliance on oil.

In the cold light of day, however, the country still needs those oil revenues for the lion’s share of its income, which means that in the current low-price environment it has ever less money to fight Boko Haram, pay for social services, or pursue alternative investment schemes. In addition, Buhari has been accused of disproportionately targeting southerners in his fight against corruption, sparking not just fresh discontent in the Delta region but the rise of a new militant group -- the Niger Delta Avengers -- that poses a threat to oil production. On May 4th, the Avengers attacked an offshore oil platform operated by Chevron and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, forcing the companies to shut down production of about 90,000 barrels per day. Add that to other insurgent attacks on the country’s oil infrastructure and the Nigerian government is expected to lose $1 billion in May alone.  If repairs are not completed on time, it may lose an equal amount in June.  It remains a nation on edge, in danger of devastating impoverishment, and with few genuine alternatives available.

Saudi Arabia: Seeking a New Vision

With the world’s second largest reserves of oil, Saudi Arabia is also the planet’s leading producer, pumping out a staggering 10.2 million barrels daily. Originally, those massive energy reserves were owned by a consortium of American companies operating under the umbrella of the Arabian-American Oil Company (Aramco). In the 1970s, however, Aramco was nationalized and is now owned by the Saudi state -- which is to say, the Saudi monarchy. Today, it is the world’s most valuable company, worth by some estimates as much as $10 trillion (10 times more than Apple), and so a source of almost unimaginable wealth for the Saudi royal family.

For decades, the country’s leadership pursued a consistent political-economic business plan: sell as much oil as possible and use the proceeds to enrich the numerous princes and princesses of the realm; provide lavish social benefits to the rest of the population, thereby averting popular unrest of the “Arab Spring” variety; finance the ultra-conservative Wahhabi clergy so as to ensure its loyalty to the regime; finance like-minded states in the region; andput aside money for those rainy-day periods of low oil prices.

Saudi leaders have recently come to recognize that this plan is no longer sustainable. In 2016, the Saudi budget has, for the first time in recent memory, moved into deficit territory and the monarchy has had to cut backon both its usual subsidies to and social programs for its people. Unlike the Venezuelans or the Nigerians, the Saudi royals socked away enough money in the country’s sovereign wealth fund to cover deficit spending for at least a couple of years. It is now, however, burning through those funds at a prodigious rate, in part to finance a brutal and futile war in Yemen. At some point, it will have to sharply curtail government spending. Given the youthfulness of the Saudi population -- 70% of its citizens are under 30 -- and its long dependence on government handouts, such moves could, in the view of many analysts, lead to widespread civil unrest.

Historically, Saudi leaders have been slow to initiate change. But recently, the royal family has defied expectations, taking radical steps to prepare the country for a transition to what’s being termed a post-petroleum economy. On April 25th, the powerful Deputy Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman,unveiled “Saudi Vision 2030,” a somewhat hazy blueprint for the kingdom’s economic diversification and modernization. Prince Mohammed also indicated that the country will soon begin to offer public shares in Saudi Aramco, with the intention of raising massive funds to invest in and create non-oil-related Saudi industries and revenue streams. On May 7th, the monarchy also abruptly dismissed its long-serving oil minister, Ali al-Naimi, and replaced him with the head of Saudi Aramco, Khalid al-Falih, a figuredeemed more subservient to Prince Mohammed. Falih’s job title was also changed to minister of energy, industry, and mineral resources, which was (so the experts speculated) a signal from the monarchy of its determination to move beyond exclusive reliance on oil as a source of income.

This is all so unprecedented that there is no way of predicting whether the Saudi royals are actually capable of bringing anything like Saudi Vision 2030 to fruition, no less moving away in a serious fashion from its reliance on oil. Many obstacles remain, including the possibility that jealous royals will push Prince Mohammed (and his vision) aside when his father, King Salman, now 80, passes from the scene. (There are regular rumors that some members of the royal family resent the meteoric rise of the 31-year-old prince.) Nevertheless, his dramatic statements about the need to diversify the kingdom’s economy do show that even Saudi Arabia -- the petro-state par excellence -- now recognizes that some kind of new identity is now a necessity.

The Stakes for Us All

You may not live in a petro-state, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a stake in the evolution of this unique political life form. From at least the “oil shock” of 1973, when the Arab OPEC members announced an “oil boycott” against the U.S. for its involvement in the Yom Kippur War, such countries have played an outsized role on the world stage, distorting international relations, and -- in the Greater Middle East -- involving themselves (and their financial resources) in one conflict after another from the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988 to the wars in Yemen and Syria today.

Their fervent support for and financing of favored causes -- whether it be Wahhabism and associated jihadist groups (Saudi Arabia), anti-Westernism (Russia), or the survival of the Assad regime in Syria (Iran) -- has provoked widespread disorder and misery. It will hardly be a tragedy if a lack of funds forces such states to pull back from efforts of this sort. But given the centrality of fossil fuels to our world for the last century or more, the chaos that could ensue in the oil heartlands of the planet from low oil prices and high supply is likely to create unpredictable new nightmares of its own.

And the greatest nightmares of all lurk not in any of this but in the inability of these states and those they supply to liberate themselves from reliance onfossil fuels fast enough.  Looking into the future, the demise of petro-states as we’ve known them could have a profound impact on the struggle to avert catastrophic climate change. Although these states are not primarily responsible for the actual combustion of fossil fuels -- that’s something we in the oil-importing countries must take responsibility for -- their pivotal role in fueling the global petroleum economy has made them largely resistant to international efforts to curb emissions of carbon dioxide. As they try to repair their busted business model or collapse under the weight of its failures, we can only hope that the path they follow will entail significantly less dependence on oil exports as well as a determination to speed up the conclusion of the fossil fuel era and so diminish its legacy of climate disaster.

(Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left.  A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education FoundationFollow him on Twitter at @mklare1.)


Tax Dodgin’ Silicon Valley and What It Means to You and Me

EASTSIDER-When we think of the giant Tech companies that own Silicon Valley (and most of San Francisco as well), we usually think about our cool iPhones and tablets, apps and computers, and how wonderful all these electronic goodies have made our lives. 

What we don’t think about (because we don’t know) is the fact that these Silicon Valley giants are among the biggest tax evaders in the United States. And what’s really a shame is that all this money isn’t even being hidden in foreign countries. 

That’s right, the actual “offshore” money is being used to buy up our own country! As in treasuries, bonds and stocks. As Wolf Richter writes in his NakedCapitalism article, here’s how they do it:

“It is registered in accounts overseas, for example in Ireland, but is then invested in whatever assets the company chooses to invest it in, including in US Treasuries, US corporate bonds, US stocks, and other US-based investments. This was revealed to the public during the Senate subcommittee investigation and hearings in March 2013 that exposed where Apple’s profits that were officially parked “overseas” actually end up.” 

This is a fix, pure and simple. A legal fiction. First, the financial services industry buys the politicians and the regulatory staff at places like the Federal Reserve, the SEC and the Justice Department, to achieve their loopholes. Then they use these newly created “legal” rules to hide money in “foreign countries.” The technical term is “inversions,” a particularly disingenuous way to avoid it what it really is: A scam. 

So when you hear about nice, new, cool, wonderful techie firms like Apple, Google, Cisco Systems, Oracle, Microsoft and IBM, be aware that they are all in the top tier of corporations beating us out of tax revenues – so much so, that the rest of us wind up having to pay more. Not cool. 

And just to add fuel to the fire, a lot of these companies, including Seagate, pay no taxes at all!  

How This Impacts You and Me

These underhanded shenanigans have two direct impacts on the rest of here in California, not to mention other states and the federal government. First, we’re talking about gazillions of dollars in California and Federal tax revenues that are being sucked out of the system so that the rest of us get hit harder. In last week’s “Woah! Enough With the Tax Increases” article, I pointed out that you and I keep getting taxed more and more and more. Well, if these corporate giants were paying their fair share of taxes like we’re forced to do, there would not be such a big need for regular people to pony up extra bucks just to cover the share of these companies. Of course, unlike big companies, you and I can’t buy the politicians to get access to the underhanded deals. 

The second direct impact on us has to do with how the uber rich employees of these tech companies spend their very high incomes. If you think about it, it’s the Tech industry companies who are driving housing prices and rents through the roof in the Bay area, as well as in parts of Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Playa del Rey, and others. NOT NICE! 

The death of affordable housing is happening at the hands of a different nouveau riche class -- shades of a new Gilded Age.

And on Top of This, You and I Are Not Doing So Hot 

As Deidre Fulton noted recently in CityWatch, 6 in 10 Americans are living on the financial edge

Even more revealing, in the AP story  she links to her piece. Two-thirds of us couldn’t come up with a thousand bucks cash if we had to -- as in paying for an emergency. This is sad, not to mention frightening. 

And if that’s not enough, a recent report by the Federal Government’s own GAO  (Government Accounting Office) demonstrated that if you happen to be black, your pensions tanked on the order of 47% between 2007 and 2013. What’s even more telling is that this didn’t happen for white workers. Holy moly! 

Just to finish the thought, it has started to occur even to the brain trust at the New York Federal Reserve that we are all in deep you-know-what. 

In case you think these are the demented ramblings of a gonzo journalist, check this out: The Federal Reserve Bank -- you know, the folks we see on TV that are giving the big banks 0% interest rates while the rest of us can’t even get a loan, period -- has entered into a contract with the crooks at JP Morgan Chase to be the financial custodian for all the toxic mortgage backed securities that they bought up in our name. 

The Takeaway 

So in a nutshell, the Investment houses like JP Morgan crash our economy in 2008 with fraudulent mortgage backed securities (or CDO’s), then they get the Fed to declare them banks so that we, the taxpayers, are on the hook for their deeds, then the Federal Reserve buys up all this toxic waste under their “Quantitative Easing” policy, and finally, to add insult to injury, they hire the crooks that created the mess to guard our “taxpayer assets”! 

With no shame at all, our Silicon Valley tech giants and other major corporations engage in ‘legal fiction’ tax evasion, as they buy up the politicians to make it so. First they exported the jobs, now they’re exporting their money, even as they turn around and buy up the US economy with the laundered proceeds. 

If you are feeling stressed, can’t hardly make ends meet, and think you are being sold out by your government, guess what? You are. And just to add insult to injury, it turns out that in California, our much ballyhooed wonderful Silicon Valley tech giants are right in the pig trough selling us out! Arrgh! Pick a party -- no joy.


                       ...if the honest voter cared no more for his party than

                        the politician and the grafter, then the honest vote would

                        govern, and that would be bad -- for graft. It is idiotic,

                        this devotion to a machine that is used to take our

                        sovereignty from us.”


                                                            -- Lincoln Steffens (1903)


(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

A Commencement Address for the Most Indebted Class Ever

EDITOR’S PICK--Congratulations, college graduates! As you enter the next phase of life, you and your parents should be proud of your achievements.

But, I’m sorry to say, they’ve come at a price: The system is trying to squeeze you harder than any previous generation.

Many baby boomers, perhaps including your parents, benefited from a time when higher education was seen as a shared social responsibility. Between 1945 and 1975, tens of millions of them graduated from college with little or no debt.

But now, tens of millions of you are graduating with astounding levels of debt.

This year, seven in 10 graduating seniors borrowed for their educations. Their average debt is now over $37,000 — the highest figure for any class ever.

Already, some 43 percent of borrowers — together owing $200 billion — have either stopped making payments or are behind on their student loans. Millions are in default.

This debt casts a long shadow on the finances of graduates. During the last quarter of 2015 alone, the Education Department moved to garnish $176 million in wages.

There’s no economic benefit to this system whatsoever. Indebted students delay starting families and buying houses, experience compounding economic distress, and are less inclined to take entrepreneurial risks.

One driver of the change from your parents’ generation has been tax cuts for the wealthy, which have led to cuts in higher education budgets. Forty-seven states now spend less per student on higher education than they did before the 2008 economic recession.

In effect, we’re shifting tax obligations away from multi-millionaires and onto states and middle-income taxpayers. And that’s led colleges to rely on higher tuition costs and fees.

In 2005, for instance, Congress stopped sharing revenue from the estate tax — a levy on inherited wealth exclusively paid by multi-million dollar estates — with the states. Most state legislatures failed to replace it at the state level, costing them billions in revenue over the last decade.

In fact, the 32 states that let their estate taxes expire are foregoing between $3 to $6 billion a year, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates. The resulting tax benefits have gone entirely to multi-millionaires and billionaires — and contributed to tuition increases.

For example, California used to raise almost $1 billion a year in revenue from its state-level estate tax. Now that figure is down to zero. And since 2008, average tuition has increased over $3,500 at four-year public colleges and universities in the state.

Florida, meanwhile, lost $700 million a year — and raised tuition nearly $2,500. Michigan lost $155 million a year and hiked average tuition $2,200.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Washington State went the opposite route.

Washington taxes wealthy estates and dedicates the $150 million it raises each year to an education legacy trust account, which supports K-12 education and the state’s community college system. Other states should follow this model, and students and parents should take the lead in demanding it.

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said at a Philadelphia town hall that there’s one thing he’s 100 percent certain about.

If millions of young people stood up and said they’re “sick and tired of leaving college $30,000, $50,000, $70,000 in debt, that they want public colleges and universities tuition-free,” he predicted, “that is exactly what would happen.”

Sanders is right: Imagine a political movement made up of the 40 million households that currently hold $1.2 trillion in debt.

If we stood up and pressed for policies to eliminate millionaire tax breaks and dedicate the revenue to debt-free education, it would change the face of America.

Graduates, let’s get to work.

(Chuck Collins directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies. Provided CityWatch by OtherWords.org.


The Battle for the Soul of American Higher Education: Student Protests vs. the Corporate University 

EDITOR’S PICK--During the past academic year, an upsurge of student activism, a movement of millennials, has swept campuses across the country and attracted the attention of the media. From coast to coast, from the Ivy League to state universities to small liberal arts colleges, a wave of student activism has focused on stopping climate change, promoting a living wage, fighting mass incarceration practices, supporting immigrant rights, and of course campaigning for Bernie Sanders.

Both the media and the schools that have been the targets of some of these protests have seized upon certain aspects of the upsurge for criticism or praise, while ignoring others. Commentators, pundits, and reporters have frequently trivialized and mocked the passion of the students and the ways in which it has been directed, even as universities have tried to appropriate it by promoting what some have called “neoliberal multiculturalism.” Think of this as a way, in particular, of taming the power of the present demands for racial justice and absorbing them into an increasingly market-oriented system of higher education.

In some of their most dramatic actions, students of color, inspired in part by the Black Lives Matter movement, have challenged the racial climate at their schools. In the process, they have launched a wave of campus activism, including sit-ins, hunger strikes, demonstrations, and petitions, as well as emotional, in-your-face demands of various sorts. One national coalition of student organizations, the Black Liberation Collective, has called for the percentage of black students and faculty on campus to approximate that of blacks in the society. It has also called for free tuition for black and Native American students, and demanded that schools divest from private prison corporations. Other student demands for racial justice have included promoting a living wage for college employees, reducing administrative salaries, lowering tuitions and fees, increasing financial aid, and reforming the practices of campus police. These are not, however, the issues that have generally attracted the attention either of media commentators or the colleges themselves.

Instead, the spotlight has been on student demands for cultural changes at their institutions that focus on deep-seated assumptions about whiteness, sexuality, and ability. At some universities, students have personalized these demands, insisting on the removal of specific faculty members and administrators. Emphasizing a politics of what they call “recognition,” they have also demanded that significant on-campus figures issue public apologies or acknowledge that “black lives matter.” Some want universities to implement in-class “trigger warnings” when difficult material is being presented and to create “safe spaces” for marginalized students as a sanctuary from the daily struggle with the mainstream culture. By seizing upon and responding to these (and only these) student demands, university administrators around the country are attempting to domesticate and appropriate this new wave of activism.

In the meantime, right-wing commentators have depicted students as coddled, entitled, and enemies of free speech. The libertarian right has launched a broad media critique of the current wave of student activism. Commentators have been quick to dismiss student protesters as over-sensitive and entitled purveyors of “academic victimology.” They lament the “coddling of the American mind.” The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf has termed students “misguided” in their protests against racist language, ideas, and assumptions, their targeting of “microaggression” (that is, unconscious offensive comments) and insensitivity, and their sometimes highly personal attacksagainst those they accuse. One of the most vocal critics of the new campus politics, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, argues that such rampant “liberalism” and “political correctness” violate academic freedom and freedom of speech. (In this, they are in accord with the liberal American Civil Liberties Union. Free speech advocates Daphne Patai and the ACLU’s Harvey Silvergate, for example, bemoan a new diversity requirement at the University of Massachusetts for its “politicization of education.”)

In a response that, under the circumstances, might at first seem surprising, college administrators have been been remarkably open to some of these student demands -- often the very ones derided by the right. In this way, the commentators and the administrators have tended to shine a bright light on what is both personal and symbolic in the new politics of the student protesters, while ignoring or downplaying their more structural and economically challenging desires and demands.

The Neoliberal University

University administrators have been particularly amenable to student demands that fit with current trends in higher education. Today’s neoliberal university is increasingly facing market pressures like loss of state funding, privatization, rising tuition, and student debt, while promoting a business model that emphasizes the managerial control of faculty through constant “assessment,” emphasis on “accountability,” and rewards for “efficiency.” Meanwhile, in a society in which labor unions are constantly being weakened, the higher education labor force is similarly being -- in the term of the moment -- “flexibilized” through the weakening of tenure, that once ironclad guarantee of professorial lifetime employment, and the increased use of temporary adjunct faculty.

In this context, universities are scrambling to accommodate student activism for racial justice by incorporating the more individualized and personal side of it into increasingly depoliticized cultural studies programs and business-friendly, market-oriented academic ways of thinking. Not surprisingly, how today’s students frame their demands often reflects the environment in which they are being raised and educated. Postmodern theory, an approach which still reigns in so many liberal arts programs, encourages textual analysis that reveals hidden assumptions encoded in words; psychology has popularized the importance of individual trauma; and the neoliberal ideologythat has come to permeate so many schools emphasizes individual behavior as the most important agent for social change. Add together these three strands of thought, now deeply embedded in a college education, and injustice becomes a matter of the wrongs individuals inflict on others at a deeply personal level. Deemphasized are the policies and structures that are built into how society (and the university) works.

For this reason, while schools have downplayed or ignored student demands for changes in admissions, tuition, union rights, pay scales, and management prerogatives, they have jumped into the heated debate the student movement has launched over “microaggressions” -- pervasive, stereotypical remarks that assume whiteness as a norm and exoticize people of color, while taking for granted the white nature of institutions of higher learning. As part of the present wave of protest, students of color have, for instance, highlighted their daily experiences of casual and everyday racism -- statements or questions like “where are you from?” (when the answer is: the same place you’re from) or “as a [fill in the blank], how do you feel about...” Student protests against such comments, especially when they are made by professors or school administrators, and the mindsets that go with them are precisely what the right is apt to dismiss as political correctness run wild and university administrations are embracing as the essence of the present on-campus movement.

At Yale, the Intercultural Affairs Committee advised students to avoid racially offensive Halloween costumes. When a faculty member and resident house adviser circulated an email critiquing the paternalism of such an administrative mandate, student protests erupted calling for her removal. While Yale declined to remove her from her post as a house adviser, she stepped down from her teaching position. At Emory, students protested the “pain” they experienced at seeing “Trump 2016” graffiti on campus, and the university president assured them that he “heard [their] message... about values regarding diversity and respect that clash with Emory’s own.” Administrators are scrambling to implement new diversity initiatives and on-campus training programs -- and hiring expensive private consulting firms to help them do so.

At the University of Missouri, the president and chancellor both resigned in the face of student protests including a hunger strike and a football team game boycott in the wake of racial incidents on campus including public racist slurs and symbols. So did the dean of students at Claremont McKenna College (CMC), when protest erupted over her reference to students (implicitly of color) who “don’t fit our CMC mold.”

Historian and activist Robin Kelley suggests that today’s protests, even as they “push for measures that would make campuses more hospitable to students of color: greater diversity, inclusion, safety, and affordability,” operate under a contradictory logic that is seldom articulated. To what extent, he wonders, does the student goal of “leaning in” and creating more spaces for people of color at the top of an unequal and unjust social order clash with the urge of the same protesters to challenge that unjust social order?

Kelley argues that the language of “trauma” and mental health that has come to dominate campuses also works to individualize and depoliticize the very idea of racial oppression. The words “trauma, PTSD, micro-aggression, and triggers,” he points out, “have virtually replaced oppression, repression, and subjugation.” He explains that, “while trauma can be an entrance into activism, it is not in itself a destination and may even trick activists into adopting the language of the neoliberal institutions they are at pains to reject.” This is why, he adds, for university administrators, diversity and cultural competency initiatives have become go-to solutions that “shift race from the public sphere into the psyche” and strip the present round of demonstrations of some of their power.

Cultural Politics and Inequality

In recent years, cultural, or identity, politics has certainly challenged the ways that Marxist and other old and new left organizations of the past managed to ignore, or even help reproduce, racial and gender inequalities. It has questioned the value of class-only or class-first analysis on subjects as wide-ranging as the Cuban Revolution -- did it successfully address racial inequality as it redistributed resources to the poor, or did it repress black identity by privileging class analysis? -- and the Bernie Sanders campaign -- will his social programs aimed at reducing economic inequality alleviate racial inequality by helping the poor, or will his class-based project leave the issue of racial inequality in the lurch? In other words, the question of whether a political project aimed at attacking the structures of economic inequality can also advance racial and gender equality is crucial to today’s campus politics.

Put another way, the question is: How political is the personal? Political scientist Adolph Reed argues that if class is left out, race politics on campus becomes “the politics of the left-wing of neoliberalism.” As he puts it, race-first politics of the sort being pushed today by university administrators promotes a “moral economy... in which 1% of the population controlled 90% of the resources could be just, provided that roughly 12% of the 1% were black, 12% were Latino, 50% were women, and whatever the appropriate proportions were LGBT people.”

The student movement that has swept across the nation has challenged colleges and universities on the basics of their way of (quite literally) doing business. The question for these institutions now is: Can student demands largely be tamed and embedded inside an administration-sanctioned agenda that in no way undermines how schools now operate in the world?

Feminist theorist Nancy Fraser has shown how feminist ideas of a previous generation were successfully “recuperated by neoliberalism” -- that is, how they were repurposed as rationales for greater inequality. “Feminist ideas that once formed part of a radical worldview,” she argues, are now “increasingly expressed in individualist terms.” Feminist demands for workplace access and equal pay have, for example, been used to undermine worker gains for a “family wage,” while a feminist emphasis on gender equality has similarly been used on campus to divert attention from growing class inequality.

Student demands for racial justice risk being absorbed into a comparable framework. University administrators have found many ways to use student demands for racial justice to strengthen their business model and so the micro-management of faculty. In one case seized upon by free-speech libertarians, the Brandeis administration placed an assistant provost in a classroom to monitor a professor after students accused him of using the word “wetback” in a Latin American politics class. More commonly, universities employ a plethora of consulting firms and create new administrative positions to manage “diversity” and “inclusion.” Workshops and training sessions proliferate, as do “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings.” Such a vision of “diversity” is then promoted as a means to prepare students to compete in the “global marketplace.”

There are even deeper ways in which a diversity agenda aligns with neoliberal politics. Literary theorist Walter Benn Michaels argues, for example, that diversity can give a veneer of social justice to ideas about market competition and meritocracy that in reality promote inequality. “The rule in neoliberal economies is that the difference between the rich and the poor gets wider rather than shrinks -- but that no culture should be treated invidiously,” he explains. “It’s basically OK if economic differences widen as long as the increasingly successful elites come to look like the increasingly unsuccessful non-elites. So the model of social justice is not that the rich don’t make as much and the poor make more, the model of social justice is that the rich make whatever they make, but an appropriate percentage of them are minorities or women.” Or as Forbes Magazine put it, “Businesses need to vastly increase their ability to sense new opportunities, develop creative solutions, and move on them with much greater speed. The only way to accomplish these changes is through a revamped workplace culture that embraces diversity so that sensing, creativity, and speed are all vastly improved.”

Clearly, university administrators prefer student demands that can be coopted or absorbed into their current business model. Allowing the prevailing culture to define the parameters of their protest has left the burgeoning Millennial Movement in a precarious position. The more that students -- with the support of college and university administrations -- accept the individualized cultural path to social change while forgoing the possibility of anything greater than cosmetic changes to prevailing hierarchies, on campus and beyond, the more they face ridicule from those on the right who present them as fragile, coddled, privileged whiners.

Still, this young, vibrant movement has momentum and will continue to evolve. In this time of great social and political flux, it’s possible that its many constituencies -- fighting for racial justice, economic justice, and climate justice -- will use their growing clout to build on recent victories, no matter how limited.

Keep an eye on college campuses. The battle for the soul of American higher education being fought there today is going to matter for the wider world tomorrow. Whether that future will be defined by a culture of trigger warnings and safe spaces or by democratized education and radical efforts to fight inequality may be won or lost in the shadow of the Ivory Tower. The Millennial Movement matters. Our future is in their hands.

(Aviva Chomsky is professor of history and coordinator of Latin American studies at Salem State University in Massachusetts and a TomDispatchregular. Her most recent book is Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal. 



Donald Trump: The Real Cost of Ignorance

JUST SAYIN’--To what extent is the popularity of Donald Trump linked to generations of Americans being purposefully undereducated in what remains a de facto segregated and inherently inferior public school system. Has this public non-education system been designed to assure that the vast majority of this country's population never reaches their intellectual potential, where they might actually have the ability to challenge those in power? Does the candidacy of a Donald Trump count on the fact that those in power will continue to delude themselves with the notion that two plus two must equal four, even if it is clearly no longer the case for the now uneducated majority of our population that chooses to deny it and support Trump. 

Unfettered by logic or the rational processes that a first-rate public education might have given them, all this majority of Americans know or sense is that they have been systematically screwed by corporate agendized government policies that remain the same irrespective of whether they are carried out by the Democrat or Republican elites. 

So now these folks surrogate in the person of Donald Trump comes along with clearly irrational and simplistic ideas purposefully tailored to appeal to the uneducated now majority that has been so long systematically degraded by what remains the unaccountable and self-dealing power elite. For anybody who bothered to look, Trump's power derives from his putting into words the rage that those who support him feel, but don't have the education to understand. 

Trump's carefully constructed candidacy is not an accident, but rather the melding of the fantasy world of The Apprentice- where this exploited majority has sought refuge from their objectively intolerable daily existent- and the present reality of Donald Trump as presumptive Republican presidential candidate with a good shot at winning, if those in power keep attacking him without offering any viable alternative. 

Like the Greek mythology story of Antaeus, who only got stronger when Hercules fought and slammed him into his mother the earth goddess Gaia, Trump will only get stronger in the eyes of his long marginalized supporters if those in opposition just keep attacking him without offering any substantive redress of their grievances. 

And yet, all the terrified and corrupt supposedly rational masters of the American political system continue to do is unleash a never ending and exaggerated corporate media attack on Trump without having the insight to understand that such an attack will not only be discounted by the masses supporting Trump, but will actually be seen by them as Trump's vindication in getting a response and engagement from those in power who never paid them any attention. 

Add to this Trump's understanding that his politically incorrect positions on race, gender, and other hot button issues are actually more in tune with the reality of the real world that the majority of men and women live in. This unfair daily reality that people are at least tacitly forced to accept gives Trump a more realistic appearance than some idealized equitable reality cited by a Hillary Clinton, which remains somehow inexplicably unattained after all these years- except in an election year. The making of a national holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King rings hollow, when we take notice of just how divided our country still remains. 

People who support Trump might be ignorant, but they are not stupid when it comes to knowing that by every indicator of well-being women, minorities, the working class, the middle class, and the elderly are worse off today with no chance of improvement as long as the Republicrats stay in power without any accountability. All Trump does is express and exploit the disparities of opportunity and wealth between his supporters and those in power. One might say he is the only rich guy that is listening to them. 

Clearly the candidacy and some of the proposals of Bernie Sanders to create an equitable public education system, a single-payer healthcare system, and an FDR-like New Deal to revitalize the crumbling infrastructure of this country would go a long way to meaningfully undermining Trump's exasperated base. But Bernie Sanders has never been a serious candidate...or at least that's what the corporate controlled mainstream media keeps telling us.


(Leonard Isenberg is a Los Angeles observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He was a second generation teacher at LAUSD and blogs at perdaily.com. Leonard can be reached at [email protected])



The Age of Precarious: 6 in 10 Americans Living on the Financial Edge

EDITOR’S PICK-- An unexpected medical bill or a dip in the stock market would be all it took to send two-thirds of Americans into financial distress, according to a new poll that finds lingering lack of confidence in the U.S. economy. 

Despite reports of falling unemployment, growing wages, and rising consumer confidence, a full 57 percent of respondents to the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey describe the national economy as poor. Only 22 percent of people say the economy has mostly or completely recovered from the Great Recession.

And while 66 percent of Americans describe their current financial situation as "good"—suggesting they are able to pay their regular bills, go out to eat more, and think about buying a new car or house—the picture is decidedly "precarious," as the Associated Press puts it.

"Even though there are signs that the economy has improved in recent years, a lot of people are not feeling that the recovery has reached them,” said Trevor Tompson, director of The AP-NORC Center. "There is evidence of optimism among the more affluent, but two-thirds of Americans would have trouble immediately paying an unanticipated bill of $1,000."

Indeed, according to the AP, "these financial difficulties span all income levels":

Seventy-five percent of people in households making less than $50,000 a year would have difficulty coming up with $1,000 to cover an unexpected bill. But when income rose to between $50,000 and $100,000, the difficulty decreased only modestly to 67 percent.

Even for the country's wealthiest 20 percent — households making more than $100,000 a year — 38 percent say they would have at least some difficulty coming up with $1,000.

"The more we learn about the balance sheets of Americans, it becomes quite alarming," Caroline Ratcliffe, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute focusing on poverty and emergency savings issues, told the AP.

What's more, most employed Americans have not seen a salary increase in recent years; less than a third have confidence they would be able to find equal or better employment if they left their current position; and few workers expect to have enough savings to retire on their own timetable.

"It's just real shaky right now," said Dorothy Mszanski, 60, a former steelworker who had to retire on disability, to the AP. "It's like nobody can figure out what to do."

The People's Budget, released earlier this year by the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), spoke directly to this unease, aiming to fix "an economy that, for too long, has failed to provide the opportunities American families need to get ahead."

"Despite their skills and work ethic," the CPC said in a statement at the time, "most American workers and families are so financially strapped from increasing income inequality that their paychecks barely cover basic necessities."

In its analysis of the proposal, the Economic Policy Institute declared: "The People’s Budget aims to improve the economic well-being of low- and middle-income families by finally closing the persistent jobs gap that has plagued the U.S. economy since the Great Recession began."

(Deirdre Fulton writes for Common Dreams  … where this piece first appeared.)


Let’s Face It: Racism is Alive and Well in Major League Basebrawl

SPORTS POLITICS--That’s béisbol. In English or Spanish, that’s baseball, the hallowed institution that serves to remind us of the way we were in those innocent days when George Halas’ Chicago Bears were the Decatur Staleys, named after the local corn-processing magnate in the little Illinois town, population 43,818.

Times have changed in sports and life, but the brawl between the Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays suggests how slowly change happens in our national pastime. 

Underlying the feud between the teams was a bat flip by Toronto’s Jose Bautista after his three-run homer in the deciding Game 5 of the 2015 American League Division series, a grandiloquent gesture—more so because it was in the postseason on national TV—that was either iconic or will live forever in baseball infamy.

Underlying that is the ongoing and only occasionally acknowledged rift between U.S. and Latino players.

This brawl started between two Latinos only because Rougned Odor, a Venezuelan, was in the path of Bautista, a Dominican, who was hit by a pitch likely ordered up by Texas manager Jeff Bannister, who waited until Bautista’s last at-bat in the teams’ last regular season meeting to get even for last fall’s bat flip. 

The bad feelings with the longstanding Latino-Anglo divide, however, go a lot further back than last fall.

Baseball takes great pride in its history of integration. After decades of being for whites only, the league now presents itself as a social pioneer with an annual Jackie Robinson Day in which everyone dons his No. 42.

Meanwhile, baseball takes little or no cognizance of its current problem.

The problem isn’t that Latinos are being barred. On the contrary, with most Latinos signed outside the draft process, giving the game a steady stream of cheap, dirt-poor, hungry, blue-chip prospects, there are more of them—29 percent of the major league players in 2016.

Acceptance is something else. Latinos are living in a time like African-Americans did in the 1950s and 1960s—after Robinson’s arrival, but before everyone realized there was no other way—and the Red Sox became the last to integrate, with infielder Pumpsie Green in 1959.

What’s in people’s hearts changes at its own pace, and in baseball, it’s a slow one.

Robinson retired in 1956 after the Dodgers, who had been praised as liberal pioneers, traded him to their archrival, the Giants.

Viable as Robinson was commercially—he was hired as a vice president by Chock full o’Nuts—he had no place in baseball until becoming a part-time Montreal Expos broadcaster in 1972.

You can argue whether the divide between U.S. and Latino players is racial or cultural, but there’s no doubt that it’s there.

As chronicled by Matt McCarthy, a pitcher in the Angels system, in his 2009 book, “Odd Man Out,” Latinos dominated on the field and went their own way off it.

“Separate but equal,” was how [teammate] Blake Allen described the team dynamic to me. ... “You’ve got your Dominicans and you’ve got everybody else. You don’t want anything to do with the Dominicans. They’re loud, they have no respect for nobody and for God’s sake, don’t ever go in the shower when they in there.”

The team was in fact divided between the Dominicans (a catchall phrase for Hispanic players) and those of us from the United States. There were a dozen Dominicans on our team from Venezuela, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Panama and, yes, the Dominican Republic. And Blake was right. They were loud and didn’t speak English.

Just 17 or 18 years old, many had been snatched out of poverty within the last year and signed to lucrative six-figure contracts. Wearing large smiles, larger gold chains and designer sunglasses, they seemed to be playing life with Monopoly money. ...

“But I tell ya what [Allen told McCarthy], in every goddamn town we go to this year, the Dominicans will have fat white girls waiting for them.”

Anonymous as McCarthy was—his 2002 season in Provo, Utah, was his only one in organized professional baseball, after which he graduated from Harvard Medical School—his story was too nitty-gritty to go down easily with the powers that be.

The New York Times noted McCarthy’s manifold errors of fact, noting that he quotes “people stating incorrect facts about their own lives and tells detailed (and mostly unflattering) stories about teammates who were in fact not on his team at the time.”

The Times went on to ask the publisher, Viking Press, and Sports Illustrated, which ran an excerpt, about its fact-checking lapses.

Nevertheless, as far as the big picture—the disturbing accounts of prejudice—is concerned, the Times article didn’t deal with McCarthy’s credibility or lack thereof.

Actually, the Anglo-Latino divide McCarthy cited dovetails with other accounts.

In a 2014 piece for Bleacher Report, Dirk Hayhurst, who pitched briefly in the majors and was hired as an in-house correspondent by the Blue Jays, quoted an elderly scout, noting, “This team has too many Latinos on it to win. Get too many of them together on a club and they take over.”

You could have heard that one about Latinos in baseball 50 years before.

In 1960, Look Magazine did a cover story about the Giants, the Blue Jays of their day with all their African-American (Willie Mays, Willie McCovey) and Latino (Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda, Felipe Alou, Matty Alou) stars. The handsome Cepeda, known as the Baby Bull, was on the cover, naked from the waist up.

The story, however, was anything but a puff piece. In it, manager Alvin Dark said Cepeda wasn’t the team player that Mays was, claiming Harvey Kuenn and Jim Davenport were more important to the team than Cepeda was.

The deeply religious Dark once stated that God didn’t create everyone equal, insisting that He “gave every race and ethnic group special attributes.”

No manager would dare say such things now. But it’s not necessarily progress, just political correctness.

A 2015 USA Today study showed that 87 percent of the bench-clearing brawls of the previous five seasons started between players of different ethnic backgrounds. Of those, Anglo-Latino square-offs accounted for 66 percent.

Bud Norris, a Padres pitcher—and an Anglo—told USA Today’s Jorge Ortiz that the numbers weren’t coincidental.

“This is America’s game,” Norris said. “This is America’s pastime, and over the last 10-15 years, we’ve seen a very big world influence in this game, which we as a union and as players appreciate. We’re opening this game to everyone that can play. However, if you’re going to come into our country and make our American dollars, you need to respect a game that has been here for over a hundred years, and I think sometimes that can be misconstrued. There are some players that have antics, that have done things over the years that we don’t necessarily agree with.

“I understand you want to say it’s a cultural thing or an upbringing thing. But by the time you get to the big leagues, you better have a pretty good understanding of what this league is and how long it’s been around.”

If this fire has smoldered for decades, Bautista’s bat flip was like hooking up a gasoline pipeline to it.

Hidebound intolerance came out of the shadows in reaction, taking the form of a defense of the game’s cultural norms.

“Bautista is a f—-ing disgrace to the game,” Goose Gossage, the ’80s reliever with the menacing Fu Manchu moustache, told ESPN in March at the Yankees’ camp where he was an instructor.

“He’s embarrassing to all the Latin players, whoever played before him. Throwing his bat and acting like a fool, like all those guys in Toronto. Yoenis Cespedes [of the Mets], same thing.”

Showing how deep feelings ran, Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt, a traditionalist but one a good deal calmer than Gossage, said it showed “flagrant disrespect for the game.”

Gossage, an equal-opportunity hater, also ripped Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred.

“The game is becoming a freaking joke because of the nerds who are running it,” said Gossage. “I’ll tell you what has happened, these guys played rotisserie baseball at Harvard or wherever the f—- they went, and they thought they figured the f—-ing game out. They don’t know s—-.”

You may notice there’s a lot of anger in baseball, which asserts itself in defense of The Code, an all-but-biblical summary of what a player can’t do without “Disrespecting the Game,” and what happens if he does.

To encapsulate it:

If you’re winning by a lot, you had better not do anything to upset the other team, like stealing a base or even taking too big a swing, let alone getting a big hit in a close game and making the opponent feel even worse by celebrating the wrong way.

The whole thing is a joke. Everyone talks as if Moses came down from Mount Sinai with The Code engraved on stone tablets.

Unfortunately, no two teams can agree on what The Code is from day to day, leading to beaucoup disagreements in the form of brawls, beanballs, near beanballs, takeout slides, et al.

Players don’t talk about a code in the National Football League and the National Hockey League, which are more violent, or the National Basketball Association, where huge players could do major damage to each other if so inclined.

NBA players used to brawl, but do so no longer, barred by then-commissioner David Stern after the 2004 Auburn Hills riot. As much as fans in all sports like a little discreet violence, the NBA has gotten on nicely without it.

If that’s the enlightened approach, baseball differs by 180 degrees.

Bautista’s flip triggered such an outcry, commissioner Manfred was obliged to comment.

Manfred, a graduate of Harvard Law like those other nerds Gossage cited, noted:

“If I were a player I wouldn’t do that. What [Bautista] did did not offend me. It was a very, very exciting moment at a point in time of great excitement for that particular franchise, one that hadn’t been a great team for a long time. You know, it’s one of those moments that happens, and it’s exciting, people liked it, and probably on balance, it’s good for the game.”

Unfortunately for Manfred, there isn’t much he can do, even if he wanted to. The baseball commissioner is the weakest of the four commissioners in the major U.S. leagues. The game has been run at the pleasure of the players’ union since then-commissioner Bud Selig called its bluff and had to cancel the 1994 World Series.

Not that it takes much to touch off a spark among baseball players who tend to be angry and, when crossed, menacing.

Having covered all four major sports, I thought of my time on baseball as sport journalism’s version of Hunter Thompson going out to cover the Hell’s Angels.

Despite their immense size, NFL players are well mannered in comparison, members of a rigidly hierarchical system. NBA players are flashy and a delight, with no problem if rivals show off to their heart’s content. NHL players are as unpretentious as your next-door neighbor.

Happily for baseball, that suggests its problems with Latinos are, indeed, cultural rather than racial. If there were no Latinos in the game, the Anglos would just get mad about something else, as they did when Ty Cobb was honing his spikes long before players of color arrived.

Unhappily for baseball, the rift is deeply cultural, attitudinal and, in the absence of acknowledgment that the game has a problem, not going away.

(Mark Heisler is a former NBA at large reporter for the LA Times and Tribune chain. He blogs at truthdig.com where this article was first posted. Check out TruthDig.com for other writers and thinkers, Robert Scheer, Chris Hedges, Amy Goodman, Bill Boyarsky among them.)




A Cold Can of ‘America’

GUEST WORDS--Because advertising is a barometer that often accurately measures America’s psychological atmosphere, attention must be paid to this: From May 23 through the presidential election, Budweiser beer will bear a different name. Eager to do its bit to make America great again, the brewer will replace the name “Budweiser” with “America” on its 12-ounce bottles and cans. 

The Financial Times says this is “a bid to capitalize on U.S. election fever.” (Before the Chicago Cubs bestrode the world like a colossus, T-shirts proclaimed “Cubs Fever: Catch it — and die.”) A beer bottle metaphysician at the brewer of soon-to-be America says, “We are embarking on what should be the most patriotic summer that this generation has ever seen.” This refers to the once-in-a-generation, light-the-sparklers opportunity to choose between two presidential candidates roundly disliked by American majorities. It is enough to drive one to drink something stronger than beer. 

Budweiser’s name change is part of an advertising campaign featuring the slogan “America is in your hands.” The brewer says this will “remind people … to embrace the optimism upon which the country was first built.” So, between now and Nov. 8, whenever you belly up to a bar, do your patriot duty by ordering a foamy mug of America. Nothing says “It’s morning in an America that is back and standing tall” quite like beer cans festooned with Americana by Anheuser-Busch InBev, a firm based in Leuven, Belgium, and run by a Brazilian. 

The beer brands most familiar to Americans — Budweiser, Miller, Coors — are foreign-owned. Want to win a round of cold Americans this summer? Wager that no one in the saloon can identify the American-owned brewer with the largest market share and say what that share is. The answer is: D.G. Yuengling & Son with just 1.4 percent of the market, slightly more than Boston Beer Co., which makes the Sam Adams brand. 

Years ago, historian Daniel Boorstin said that whereas Europeans went to market to get what they want, Americans go to discover what they want. Nowadays the market comes to customers everywhere via ubiquitous advertising, precious little of which is designed to create desires for new products. 

Beer commercials are not supposed to make viewers thirsty or to prompt them to buy beer rather than Buicks. Rather, the commercials’ primary purpose is to defend and expand a brand’s market share. They do this by giving particular beers distinctive personalities. By doing so, they stroke consumers’ psyches, drawing beer drinkers into what Boorstin called “consumption communities.” Consumers are moved to covet a product less for its intrinsic qualities than its manufactured meaning. Advertising does this by reducing its information content and increasing its emotional appeals. 

Budweiser is the “king of beers” — we know it is because Budweiser says it is — but will not be saying so during this advertising campaign. The slogan will be replaced by “E Pluribus Unum.” This is Latin for “Perhaps a gusher of patriotic kitsch will stanch the leakage of our market share to pestilential craft breweries.” 

America has more than 4,000 craft breweries. Most American adults — 235 million of them — live within 10 miles of a local brewery. And more than 40 percent of Americans 21-to-27 have never tasted Budweiser. They prefer craft beers (a craft brewer ships no more than 6 million barrels a year; Budweiser shipped 16 million in 2013, down from 50 million in 1988), which perhaps explains Budweiser’s current weirdly truculent commercials, such as this: “Proudly a macro beer. It’s not brewed to be fussed over. … It’s brewed for drinking, not dissecting. … Beer brewed the hard way. 

Let them sip their pumpkin peach ale.” And this: “Not small. Not sipped. Not soft. Not a fruit cup. Not imported.” Not cheerful. 

Last year, craft brewers, which are increasing at a rate of almost two a day, won 12.8 percent of the $105.9 billion beer market. And 2015 was the sixth consecutive year, and the 12th time in 15 years, in which beer’s portion of the nation’s alcohol revenue declined as more Americans drink cocktails like the characters on “Mad Men.” 

If, however, these aspiring Don Drapers hoist an America, they will have in their hands bottles and cans adorned with snippets of American Scripture — the Pledge of Allegiance, “The Star Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful.” The psalmist said that joy cometh in the morning. Fat lot the psalmist knew. Joy cometh in the evening when you crack a cold can of America and anticipate the thrills of the looming “patriotic summer.” Go ahead. It’s 5 o’clock somewhere.


(George Will is a national political columnist. His work appears regularly at Freedoms Back  … as did this piece.)


Why Donald Trump Can Lie and No One Seems to Care

GUEST WORDS--Donald Trump is a serial liar. Okay, to be a bit less Trumpian about it, he has trouble with the truth. If you look at Politifact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning site that examines candidates’ pronouncements for accuracy, 76 percent of Trump’s statements are rated either “mostly false,” “false,” or “pants on fire,” which is to say off-the-charts false. By comparison, Hillary Clinton’s total is 29 percent.

But if Trump doesn’t cotton much to the truth, he doesn’t seem to cotton much to his own ideas, either. He waffles, flip-flops and obfuscates, sometimes changing positions from one press appearance to the next, as Peter Alexander reported on NBC Nightly News this past Monday — a rare television news critique of Trump.

I say “rare” because most of the time, as Glenn Kessler noted in The Washington Post this week, MSM — the mainstream media —  just sit back and let Trump unleash his whoppers without any pushback, even as they criticize his manners and attitude.

In an ordinary political season, perhaps Trump would be under fire for his habitual untruths, like the one that Ted Cruz’s father might have been involved with Lee Harvey Oswald. This time around, though, neither the media nor the public — least of all his supporters — seem to care. Which leads to the inescapable conclusion that these days, as far as our political discourse goes, truth, logic, reason and consistency don’t seem to count for very much.

The question is why.

One simple explanation is that Trump has changed the rules. He is not a politician but a provocateur, and he isn’t held to the same standards as Clinton or Bernie Sanders or even Cruz, all of whom actually have policies. For Trump, policies are beside the point.

Another explanation is that long before Trump, social scientists observed that truth matters less to people than reinforcement, and that most of us have the ability to reformulate misstatements into truth so long as they conform to our own biases. We believe what we believe, and we are not changing even in the face of opposing facts (without this capacity for self-deception there would be no Fox News).

There is, however, another and even more terrifying explanation as to why the truth doesn’t seem to matter. It has less to do with Trump or our own proclivities to reshape reality than it has to do with infotainment — with the idea that a lot of information isn’t primarily about education or elevation, where truth matters, but entertainment, where it doesn’t. You might call it “the Winchell Effect.”

Walter Winchell, about whom I wrote a 1994 biography, was a hugely popular New York-based gossip columnist for the Hearst newspaper chain and an equally popular radio personality, although saying that is a little like saying that Michael Jordan was a basketball player. Winchell was the gossip columnist, with an estimated daily audience of 50 million. He practically invented the form, and the form was a long chain of snippets — rumor, prediction, innuendo — racing down the page, separated by ellipses.

Some of these snippets were scarcely more than a noun, a verb and an object: Mr. So-and-so is “that way” about Miss So-and-so. Does her husband know? In this way, Winchell became not only the minimalist master of gossip but also, quite possibly, the first tweeter – before Twitter.

If you are wondering how this is relevant to the 2016 campaign, in time Winchell turned his roving eye from entertainment to politics, deploying exactly the same arsenal to the latter as he had to the former. Thus did gossip leap the tracks from Hollywood and Broadway to Washington. In this, Winchell’s approach was a precursor of modern election coverage. He was obsessed with letting readers in on what was going to happen — the clairvoyance of rumor — rather than with what was happening or what it actually meant. That is, he was a horse-race handicapper long before horse-race coverage became the dominant form of political journalism.

One prominent example: At the behest of the White House, Winchell spent months floating trial balloons for Franklin D. Roosevelt and his ambitions for a third term. Basically, it was presidentially endorsed gossip.

But Winchell’s influence didn’t stop at conflating entertainment with politics — and this is where the indifference to truth comes in. Winchell reported dozens of tidbits of gossip each day. Presumably, that’s why people read him or listened to him on the radio; they wanted to be ahead of the curve. But the vast majority of these tidbits were unverifiable, and nearly half of the flashes that were verifiable turned out to be false, according to a survey conducted for a six-part New Yorker profile of Winchell by St. Clair McKelway. Since there was always a passel of new scoops every day, no one seemed to notice — or care — that he was usually wrong.

One can only assume this was because readers seemed to relish the excitement of the “news” more than they desired its accuracy. Or, to put it another way, gossip was entertainment, not information. Thus the Winchell Effect.

The Winchell Effect is alive and well in today’s politics in two respects. First, candidates can get away with saying pretty much anything they want without being held accountable so long as what they say is entertaining and so long as they keep the comments coming. Trump has been the major beneficiary of this disinclination by the MSM to examine statements. The blast of his utterances always supersedes their substance. And the MSM plays along.

To wit: Trump announced his tax plan way back in September 2015. With kudos to the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, which did look at his plan, it is just this week that most of the MSM are getting around to examining it — even as he changes it. (I may have missed it, but I still have yet to see a single story delving into Trump’s tax policies on the network news.)

Perhaps better late than never, but the fact that he could throw out wild schemes involving trillions of dollars without the media feeling the need to vet them means that primary voters had no way to understand his tax plan and see its flaws. Of course, from the MSM’s perspective, analyzing a plan would be tackling policy, not providing entertainment. And make no mistake, the candidate and the mainstream media are in the entertainment business.

And that is the second way in which the Winchell Effect changes our politics. If candidates are not accountable, neither are the political media. Like Winchell, they are not only besotted with strategies, polls, predictions, and — in the case of a few cable networks — wild, unverifiable charges, they are, like Winchell, seldom challenged when they get it all wrong.

They were wrong about Trump not being a serious candidate. They were wrong about Jeb Bush’s and Marco Rubio’s chances to get the nomination. They were wrong about the likelihood of a contested GOP convention. Since they won’t call one another out, no one calls them out. In effect, they are implicated in the Winchell Effect as much as Trump is, which may be one reason why they don’t challenge him. Neither Trump nor the press has to be right. They just have to keep ginning up the excitement.

What this means is that our politics is no longer politics in the traditional sense of policy and governance. It is, as most of us realize, a show, a game, an ongoing reality TV saga. This is nothing new. The media have been bored with policy for a long time and have been pressing the horse-race narrative over real reporting for just as long. And when they do discuss policy, as The Huffington Post’s Jason Linkins observed, in a typically smart piece, they are likely to prefer the windy, absurd generalities of a Trump to the wonky policies of a Clinton. It makes better copy, and it has the added benefit that it doesn’t require any fact-checking.

Trump is the fullest flower of a non-political politics and the fullest product of the Winchell Effect. With their mutual lack of interest in the truth, Trump and the MSM deserve one another — a synergy of the showman and the gossip columnists. But do we deserve them? Only if we allow our politics to become a way of amusing ourselves rather than the way to select a leader.

Meanwhile, Trump and the MSM will keep the misinformation coming, on the sadly correct assumption that many of us don’t really care about facts so long as we are being titillated.

(Neil Gabler is an author of five books and the recipient of two LA Times Book Prizes, Time magazine's non-fiction book of the year, USA Today's biography of the year and other awards. He is also a senior fellow at The Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California, and is currently writing a biography of Sen. Edward Kennedy. This piece was posted first at Bill Moyers blog.) 


The Worship of Donald Trump …Ignoramus-in-Chief … and What It Says about America’s Education System

VOICES-Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman recently wrote about Donald Trump, expressing the view of most educated people from the Right, Left, or Middle of the political spectrum. Krugman puts the matter directly: "Donald Trump is an ignoramus.” 

University educator Arthur Camins’ article in Huffpost says that perhaps the Trump candidacy has come about due to the fact that schools fail at teaching Citizenship Development. As an educator of public policy and an educational researcher for many decades, I agree. A great failure of public education is the sparse teaching and learning about citizenship and what it means to live in a nation of laws. 

The operant question seems to be, why are so many Americans willing to support Trump, a man who seems to be a distorted and uninformed clown, a showman and greed merchant who is proud of his ignorance and is so egocentric that he does not even want to learn?   

This group of voters presents a frightening prospect for our society. For example, on Thursday, Mother Jones magazine’s David Corn reported  that Anthony Senecal, who served as Trump’s butler for 17 years before becoming the real estate mogul’s in-house “historian” at Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Florida, has been taking to Facebook to rant about how the current president should be hanged. “Looks like that sleezey bastard zero (O) is trying to out maneuver Congress again, if the truth be known this prick needs to be hung for treason!!!” Senecal declared on his Facebook page on April 21, 2015. 

The work of William Shirer from the early 1960s, “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” rings alarms that resonate today as we see fellow citizens rushing into the arms of this potential despot – one who could possibly create a nuclear holocaust with his hand on the red phone. This theme is the core message of Ionesco's remarkable play, “Rhinoceros,” depicting those who rushed to join the Anschluss in Germany and throughout Europe before WW II. Many people today feel safe to express their hate for others of different nationalities, different religions, different skin colors; and Trump offers them permission to divide Americans and incite violence. 

Are all these American voters virulent bigots who are against immigrants, Jews, Muslims, the educated, teachers, and almost everyone else in the main stream in the US? Will they be rushing to turn in their neighbors who may then be hauled away to 21st century gas chambers? Will they be standing by to steal all their land and worldly goods, as happened under the Nazis? 

Are these voters striving to somehow be seen as billionaire wannabes? Or are they poor, uneducated and easily taken in by a snake oil salesman who wants to "Make America Great Again?” 

Do these “know-nothings” follow the lead of “The Turner Diaries,” wanting only to have a White Christian country where people are able to string up from the light poles all people of color and people of other religions, as depicted in this hate-filled book? 

This is the moment to figure out who the “Trump voters” are and why they exist…and then, what we can do as a community to fix the problem. 

Is John Dewey somehow responsible for this frightening turn of events? Is it what has been taught (or not taught) in our public schools over the past 60 years that has created a society that is no longer a marketplace of ideas? Have we devolved into a “march of the marionettes,” willing to follow Trump toward national, and possibly planetary, destruction? 

Or is it more reasonable to look at post-World War II American economics and culture to find an answer? 

The stream of recent history, from the era of Bundles for Britain and Rosie the Riveter to today, is marked with the upsurge of contemporary robber barons who idolize and idealize Wall Street and the Free Market. The confluence of universal education and the union movement after WWII built the strongest middle class that history has ever known. But then came the 180 degree turnabout with the rise of the Reagan Revolution. Eventually, this led to 2008: worldwide bank scams and the bundling of credit default swaps and collateral debt obligations, all of which destroyed the economy and broke the middle class.

The downfall of the middle class can be traced from the banks that are “too big to fail” (the ones that are now able to take endless risks on the public dole, like using public cash in the form of FDIC guarantees to banksters who reap the rewards) to the redistribution of wealth to the 1%, to the rise of the entertainment industry that includes Faux (Fox) News, a pop music industry that urges you to “do your own thing” (i.e. cop killing or rape) and the endless murder that is shown in films, cartoons, and television.  

How mind bending and inculcating is it to have tiny children watching iPads and TV screens, seeing and hearing the devolution of an orderly respectful society of laws? In its place, we have “heroes” that are tattooed and pierced gangster-types who beat and kill others for unleashed super powers?  

And now in the 21st Century, the billionaire class led by Eli Broad, the Waltons, Rupert Murdoch, Pete Peterson, Michael Milken, Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates, and their ilk, is fighting to do away with public education. They want to privatize all public schools for profit, undermining universal free education and critical thinking. They want to create unquestioning cogs to fit their corporate needs, while attempting to kill off the entire union movement. Keep 'em poor and dumb and manageable. That seems to be the goal. 

Oligarchic profiteering, paired with keeping the populace ignorant through a managed media, is leading America into arms of Donald Trump and David Duke -- and straight to fascism. The rush to make big bucks by devaluing our society of laws and universal free education, the glorifying of infotainment news (owned mainly by Murdoch) that skims facts with a quick rush to judgement about how the world works, has led too many to demand, buy, keep, and use their guns, including automatic mass killing weapons. These people want easy answers to complex situations, want only what pleases them, and exhibit a selfishness that shows up as freeway rage, gang wars, racist clashes, mass murder, and finally … voting for a Know Nothing like Donald Trump. 

Is America finished as a democratic republic? Are we now to become a nation of roaming mobs intent on killing, beating and stealing from others who do not agree with us?  

I see little connection to public school education, but rather a strong correlation to the overarching greed of the billionaire class which insulates itself from harm as it instigates internecine warfare in America.


(Ellen Lubic, Director of Joining Forces for Education is a Public Policy educator/writer. Views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the views of CityWatch or its ownership.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams. 


Imagine: You Get a Check Each Month to Cover Your Basic Costs … but Don’t have to Work for It

FRIEDMAN, MCGOVERN MAKING A COMEBACK--Imagine a world where you get a check each month that allows you to cover your basic costs — but don’t have to work to earn it. 

It’s called the Universal Basic Income and free-market economist Milton Friedman loved a version of the idea, as did liberal presidential candidate George McGovern. 

Some of the globe’s top economic thinkers gathered last week in Zurich to discuss the future of UBI, as it is known, prompted by the prospect of mass job displacement as technology makes more workers obsolete. The conference was timely: Next month Swiss voters will decide in a referendum whether to approve the first national basic income. If it passes, every adult will receive about $2,500 a month, while all kids will get $625. 

UBI will also be tested soon in parts of Finland and the Netherlands. Meanwhile, in the U.S., tech investors like Sam Altman are working on American corollaries. 

Capital & Main spoke to Rick Wartzman, senior advisor to the Drucker Institute and former business editor of the Los Angeles Times, about UBI. Wartzman, who addressed the Zurich conference, is the author of a forthcoming book on the changing nature of employer-employee relationships. He is also a board member of Capital & Main. 

What is driving the conversation now on Universal Basic Income? 

The real reason is because of great concern that the exponential advance of technology is poised to wipe out so many jobs so rapidly. There is a lot of fear that this could happen in the not too distant future—in our kids’ lifetimes. There’s a fear that technology could for the first time in history destroy more jobs than it will create. The impact will be felt because of everything from driverless cars to artificial intelligence that will erode white-collar professions. 

Is it true that UBI is being embraced by both the left and right? 

There is a long history of UBI being embraced by the left and the right. At the conference in Zurich, you had everyone from the Roosevelt Institute and Bob Reich endorsing UBI, to people from the Cato Institute who were also speaking in its favor. 

For the left, this is another mechanism to advance social justice and better take care of people who, especially in an era of massive jobs loss, might really suffer. What’s appealing to those on the right is this is an efficient and nonintrusive way for government to take care of those most in need. As they see it—and here’s where the left and right don’t necessarily agree—the UBI would replace most, if not all other, social welfare programs.

How do you pay for UBI? 

There is no shortage of potential financing mechanisms. At the conference, I heard about the possibility of a broad-based consumption tax, a financial-transactions tax and more. The bigger thing, perhaps, is that UBI would require a mind shift of handing everyone a check and they decide what to do with it. They can work or not work—or at least work less in a regular job than they do now. The feeling is most people will still do something productive, whether it’s making art or music or volunteering, because they get a sense of purpose from contributing to the world. This may expand our concept of what work is. 

Is it means tested? 

Not, it’s universal and unconditional — everybody would get it. Even Donald Trump would get it.

How does labor view UBI — is it seen as a threat to organizing efforts?

I have heard that there are a number of labor leaders who don’t like it because it kind of undercuts their raison d’etre. I don’t know if that’s universally true, and the great exception for sure is Andy Stern — he has a book coming out on the case for Universal Basic Income. 

What would have to change in American political culture for UBI to have a chance? 

The best hope for it is to start locally, maybe in some cities, and to start with pilots. Pilots are smart — you learn things, and if it really is a good policy that may begin to build some momentum.  

He talked about who holds power and inequality being a problem. He asserts—and I agree—that we are living in a world of abundance. The problem is it’s not being distributed fairly. If you look now at the platform economy — Uber, Airbnb — the platform owners are extracting huge amounts of wealth, and the networks that create the wealth — the people driving their cars or renting out their homes — are getting scraps. It’s really disproportionate. There is a feeling that UBI is a way to help even out the pie. 

Reich also talked about how important it is, if we’re going to sustain the health of our economy, to create enough aggregate demand. Currently, there is not enough dough in consumers’ pockets to keep the machine humming. When wealth is concentrated, it’s a problem for expanding GDP and creating jobs. The aggregate demand problem is very real. 

What is your interest in UBI? 

My main interest is in how this ties into people’s sense of how work is changing. Will tech destroy more jobs than it creates? How will people make their living in the future? How will we define work and the workplace? 

(Danny Feingold is the publisher of Capital & Main, and previously led the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy's communications efforts for more than a decade. Prior to that, Danny worked as a journalist for the LA Times. This piece was posted first at Capital and Main.



Dust-up in West Virginia about Economic Justice

PERSPECTIVE-Politicians have a knack for making some of the dumbest statements. Hillary Clinton not only made one, but chose the worst place to utter it. 

Saying, “...we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business…” in a state that mines 10% of the nation’s output of the fossil fuel seems comparable to some of Donald Trump’s many foot-in-mouthisms. 

The statement was taken out of context – Clinton did indicate her administration would help prepare coal miners for different careers – but specific solutions were neither offered nor alluded to beyond unspecified retraining. 

Retraining: a promise we’ve heard before from many candidates at all levels. But if you are going to suggest it as a solution to a group facing the growing prospects of unemployment, then specifics are in order, not to mention facing up to reality. 

Coal miners do have generic traits any employer would welcome: fierce work ethic, commitment to productivity, unselfishness….but the transition from a lifetime in the mine shafts to other industries where technological skills are becoming increasingly common will represent an insurmountable challenge for many. 

Determining what industries or skills would provide the best prospects for miners is almost a crap shoot – even retail. How many WalMarts can West Virginia support? In any event, competition for any job will be fierce. Some employment opportunities could also involve relocation, a prospect which may not be practical for many. 

A more sensible approach is to let the coal industry die a natural death over a long period of time. It is already in a steady state of decline in Appalachia: five major coal companies have filed for bankruptcy within the last twelve months. Mining jobs have also vanished, especially in West Virginia. It hasn’t helped the state that easier-to-mine coal can be found in Montana and Wyoming, and cheaper natural gas is abundant. 

There is no need to rush it along for the sake of climate change, especially when coal is and will continue to be heavily burned in China and India. We will also always need some coal production, as it is important to have diverse and secure energy sources. 

In the long-run, though, coal usage will diminish as cleaner sources become more economical. That’s a good thing. 

Let as many as possible of the current generations of miners work to retirement. Encourage the rising generations in the coal mining regions of Appalachia to aspire to other careers by emphasizing the benefits of science, business, engineering, agriculture and technology careers in schools. More importantly, apply the resources necessary to make that happen. 

According to CNA (it is not an acronym,) a company specializing in economic, social and defense research, referring to Appalachia,  “the national focus on college and career readiness for all students presents a particular challenge in a region where, in the past, college was neither needed nor desired and careers outside the coal industry are limited.” 

CNA’s study also suggested a strong desire for students to remain close to home and choose occupations where a college education is not required. 

That particular aspect of the region’s culture has to change. The support of the adult population is critical in order for that to occur. 

Pulling the rug out from under those whose livelihoods depend on the coal industry is not how you win their hearts and minds. 

The bad feelings will not be limited to West Virginia either. The swing state of Ohio is in play, where 33,000 are employed in the industry and coal provides 69% of the state’s electricity. Those employees have friends and relatives, so the potential for a meaningful block turning out in a tight race is there. 

I have no horse in this presidential race, but I understand the volatile mix present in this nation which could make the outcome go either way.


(Paul Hatfield is a CPA and serves as President of the Valley Village Homeowners Association. He blogs at Village to Village and contributes to CityWatch. The views presented are those of Mr. Hatfield and his alone and do not represent the opinions of Valley Village Homeowners Association or CityWatch. He can be reached at: [email protected].) Photo: LA Daily News. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Could Donald Trump be the Lesser of Two Evils?

THE FROG PARABLE INFORMS POLITICS--There's an old adage that says, "If you put a frog in boiling water it will jump out. But if you put the frog in water and slowly raise the temperature around it, it will boil to death." 

Given that we do not have the luxury of a parliamentary democracy, which most often requires a coalition between different political parties in order to govern, and given that we do not have a "none of the above" option on our ballots, it seems likely that we will be left with a choice between the lesser of two evils. 

If we decide to vote for Hillary Clinton, can we truly say that she is the lesser of two evils? Or will she just be the latest installment of an exclusively corporate-financed agenda adopted by a homogeneous Democrat and/or Republican controlled government? Ever since one-term President Jimmy Carter was forced out of office 1981, this government has not deviated in the slightest when it comes to big corporate-backed issues. Endless oil-wars-for-profit in the Middle East and a complete laissez-faire approach to dealing with the mega-banks and Wall Street have seen the richest get richer more than any other time in history. At the same time, we’ve seen the needs of the lower, blue collar and middle classes systematically ignored by government. 

Can one really expect the present Democratic Party will institute any different policies under Hillary Clinton than would the Republican Party? After all, the administration of Barak Obama has bombed seven more countries than Bush did; he spied on our allies and went after Edward Snowden and other whistle blowers for exposing grossly illegal government behavior in violation of the Constitution. And of course, Hillary Clinton was intimately involved with all of this as Secretary of State from 2009-2013. 

Now we are supposed to believe that Hillary Clinton, who has amassed an obscene campaign war chest from Wall Street and the big banks, will somehow be able to objectively deal with the multinational corporations who only pledge allegiance to the country giving them the best deal.

The expectation of such neutrality from a Hillary Clinton presidency ignores human nature. If the Democrats and Republicans up until now have not enforced laws dealing with such clear conflicts of interest, why would you believe that Hillary would enforce them now? 

Let's face it, the corporations own her. Just take a look at her political history starting in college with her support for conservative Barry Goldwater. She has never held a belief that she was not willing to compromise or outright change for a price or perceived political advantage. 

Is there any reason to think that a third Clinton administration (the first two got rid of protections like Glass-Stleagal) will be anything other than the continued completely unconscionable laissez-faire approach to Wall Street and mega-banks that are "too big to fail," – institutions that will continue to foster overt corruption with no legal consequences, irrespective of who is in power? And when a candidate like Bernie Sanders dares to question this corporate agenda, Hillary Clinton has attacked him for being an "unrealistic political idealist." She has shown a complete unwillingness to question the entrenched corporate for-profit agenda. 

If people can momentarily conquer their more than justifiable revulsion at the offensive superficiality of Donald Trump, is it fair to ask what a Trump presidency might be like? For starters, some surprising insight comes from the candidacy of Bernie Sanders and his unprecedented independently financed and truly revolutionary campaign. He has mounted it against our present corporate-homogenized government – even though the Sanders candidacy has been relegated to the "not serious" category by corporate media from its inception. Was it coincidental that the corporate media took the same approach to Trump...and is still using that against him? 

Might the palpable fear generated by the idea of a Trump presidency finally inspire a motivated and energized democratic electorate across the political spectrum – one that will no longer be apathetic in the face of the extremes that Trump makes possible? 

People who support Sanders -- and to some extent those Trump supporters of good faith who are not wall-building racists -- do so because they can no longer rationalize doing nothing. The majority of those on the Right and the Left reject corporate-controlled government policies, especially since, taken to their logical and predictable conclusion, they threaten the future existence of our democracy. 

I recognize the risk of putting a Donald Trump in power, considering what transpired after the initial democratic election of Adolph Hitler in Germany in 1933. I also see what a greater and more certain catastrophe it would be if our country continues down a road that includes the corporate usurpation of our democratic processes, rationalized by people like Hillary Clinton. Witness how she attacks the new “New Deal ideas” of Bernie Sanders as being "no longer realistic." 

Feel free to send me to hell for my heresy, but I would encourage you to think about why you are so sure that the tepid business-as-usual approach of Hillary Clinton -- given the critical nature of issues like global warming -- would be any less threatening than a Donald Trump presidency. It might just engender opposition that could reinvigorate our comatose democracy. 

Could that opposition to the limited powers of a President Donald Trump force us into a new era of democratic compromise between the Left and the Right? Could this finally challenge the exclusive short-term profit motive of corporations – entities that, if allowed to continue unchecked, will push this country over the edge?


(Leonard Isenberg is a Los Angeles observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He was a second generation teacher at LAUSD and blogs at perdaily.com. Leonard can be reached at [email protected]) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Battle of the Imperial Pretenders

POLITICS-It took the Roman Republic five centuries to devolve into a centralized despotism. It may take ours roughly 240 years to get to the same place, but with decidedly less upside.

Concern over a crossing of a constitutional Rubicon – the northern Italian river whose passage by Julius Caesar and his legion in 49 B.C. occasioned the death of the Republic – has centered on Donald Trump. The Donald might not have conquered Gaul, or written a brilliant account of his exploits, but his Caesarist attributes – overweening self-regard, contempt for existing institutions and a touch of glamour – are all too obvious.

No surprise, then, that some on the left, perhaps rehearsing their roles as cheerleaders for Hillary Clinton, see Trump as a “tyrant” – a Caesar in training. Others see a reincarnation of Italy’s fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and link Trump’s success to that of the rising European populist parties, which progressives often label, sometimes accurately, as protofascist.

Many on the intellectual right also see in The Donald an imperial pretender. New York Times Republican stalwart Ross Douthat has called the likely GOP presidential standard bearer “a protofascist grotesque with zero political experience and poor impulse control.”

Two faces of incipent fascism

Trump may seek, as House Speaker Paul Ryan suspects, an imperial presidency. His proposed mass deportations of undocumented immigrants or proposed ban on nonresident Muslims entering the country would certainly require a robust and oppressive central state. As Rich Lowry of National Review notes, “Donald Trump exists in a plane where there isn’t a Congress or a Constitution. There are no tradeoffs or limits. There is only his will and his team of experts.”

But there’s also a progressive side to incipient fascism in America. After all it’s the militants of the Left who try to shut down Trump rallies, not the other way around. Free speech? It’s now common place for social-justice warriors to shout down conservative speakers. And their influence seems leading to new forms of control over the Internet, as recently seen at Twitter and Facebook.

Even the establishment Left appears increasingly Caesarist, brooking no real restraint on executive power, if they hold the reins. Hillary Clinton has already made clear she won’t follow her husband’s path of compromise with the Republican Congress; if they refuse to go along, she will go around them – just like President Obama has. Her “results”-oriented authoritarianism, notes left-leaning journalist Matt Yglesias, seems increasingly alluring to progressives.

Here in California, our septuagenarian state duce, Jerry Brown, enthusiastically embraces “the coercive power of the state” in order to enforce his dictates on climate change. And, for his part, Barack Obama has extended rule by decree to unprecedented lengths. During its first six years, the Obama administration promulgated more than twice as many major rules as during the first six years of the predecessor George W. Bush administration.

Progressive variations of fascism may be more accepted by the media than the Trump version, but both represent a remarkably similar impulse.

Roman Replay?

Restraints on central power are critical to the great republics, but these are clearly loosening in America. Our founders were highly conscious of the Roman Republic’s structure and sought to emulate it. They saw the need, as did the Romans, for a balance of interests, with limited tenure for consuls, and ways for the common citizenry to express their preferences through elected tribunes. The whole system, notes historian Adrian Goldsworthy, was built around “the desire to prevent any one individual from gaining to too much permanent power.”

Roman Republican ideals helped shape our constitutional system – with its emphasis on checks and balances – but Rome’s eventual demise also presents a cautionary tale. As the Roman Republic extended its reach, including more races and peoples under its domain, old structures began to fray. The Senate became a pit of corruption, and there was the rise of various charismatic leaders – Sulla, Marius, the Gracchi – who uprooted the old system and gradually denuded it of meaning. When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon en route to seizing power, he assumed complete control of the state, dismantling the old system.

Caesar was an effective reformer, notes historian Mary Beard, modernizing everything from transportation to time-keeping. He created new colonies to resettle the capital’s poor and extended Roman citizenship to those living far north of the city. His essential argument was that great things could only be accomplished by dismissing the old republican system with its checks and balances.

So the Republic gave way to the Empire, which, tragically, did not always have leaders of the quality of Caesar or his adopted son Octavian, later know as Augustus. Trump, sadly, has a personality more reminiscent of Nero or Caligula.

The public: Both problem, potential solution

Trump’s appeal, like Caesar’s, has its roots in changing social mores and economic changes. In Caesar’s Rome, displaced farmers and ex-soldiers felt little sympathy for the patrician elites of their day. Similarly, America’s middle and working classes, particularly among the white majority, hate the economic and political leadership that have flourished while they have suffered through more than a decade of falling real earnings and depressed middle-class opportunities. They also see a popular culture that largely disregards, and even demeans, the traditional values of family, small enterprise or patriotism. Further, they face an oligarchy – mostly lining up behind Hillary Clinton – that dominates both the economy, media and the political system.

These voters, as the New York Times’ Nate Cohen has observed, are not primarily the uneducated, racist bumpkins often portrayed in the media. Voters embraced Trump not just as an expression of “hate,” as progressives claim, but because he, like Bernie Sanders on the left, has intuited their concerns. Like Mussolini, who wished to revive the glory of Caesar’s Rome, however, Trump’s xenophobic notion of “making America great again” is classically fascist.

Rather than a choice, we face a contest between two different kinds of imperial pretenders. After all, liberals, not conservatives, advocate witch hunts against those with dissenting views on such issues as climate change, and even seek to exclude the politically incorrect from donating to museums, seeking to make sure our cultural institutions also follow the party line.

So are we threatened – as in pre-Imperial Rome, post-World War I Italy and Weimar Germany – with witnessing ever more intense battles, possibly in the streets, as two authoritarian movements seek to control the national agenda by seizing power in Washington.

The only hope for changing this course relies on what used to be thought of as the common sense of the American people. If both Trump and Clinton have little regard for constitutional niceties, the people of this country – Republican, Democrat, independent – still generally favor solutions developed at the local level and suspect the power of the federal government.

Roughly half of Americans, according to a 2015 Gallup poll, now consider the federal government “an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens.” In 2003, only 30 percent of Americans felt that way. Survey research finds confidence in large governmental institutions – beyond the military and police – now sits at record lows.

Even millennials, although largely liberal in their orientation, particularly on issues such as immigration and gay marriage, appear to favor community-based, local solutions as opposed to “top down” approaches to key problems. A recent National Journal poll found that millennials, are far less trusting of major institutions than their Generation X predecessors.

“Millennials are on a completely different page than most politicians in Washington, D.C.,” notes pollster John Della Volpe says. “This is a more cynical generation when it comes to political institutions.”

These sentiments are likely to be submerged as Americans get to choose between two utterly unlikable authoritarians. Yet, if the Republic survives either of these likely miserable regimes, there is hope that, at some point, Americans will turn back from the idea of an imperial presidency and again see the wisdom in the dispersal – not the concentration – of both political and economic power.

(Joel Kotkin is a R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism in Houston. His newest book is “The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us.” This was first posted at newgeography.com.


What Does Natural-Born American Even Mean?

VOICES FROM THE SQUARE-When choosing among presidential candidates, Americans find plenty to debate about their fitness for office, experience, and economic and foreign policies. But the framers of the Constitution made no mention of such qualifications; they were primarily concerned that the president be truly American. And one of the ways that a president counted as truly American was to be, in the Constitution’s phrase, a “natural-born citizen.”

In the modern era, this phrase has been particularly contentious. There was the clamor over whether Canadian-born presidential candidate Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz met that requirement; there were accusations that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. We can go back at least to 1968, when candidate George Romney had to explain his birth in Mexico.

The concerns appear to arise from a kinetic modern world that impels millions of people to cross political borders seeking refuge or opportunity, and then cross social borders, falling in love and having children. But the fluid nature of nationality and citizenship isn’t just a modern condition—it’s a defining feature of American identity that dates all the way back to the beginnings of the republic.

The idea of nationality and citizenship being fixed at birth derived from the feudal concept of fealty owed by vassals to their lords, according to William Blackstone, the preeminent authority on English law at the time of the American Revolution. “Natural-born citizens” were those “who are born within the dominions of the crown of England,” including its colonies. Then there were “aliens”—“such as are born out of it.” Birthplace mattered, Blackstone explained, because “immediately upon their birth” natural-born subjects “are under the king’s protection; at a time too, when (during their infancy) they are incapable of protecting themselves. Natural allegiance is therefore a debt of gratitude which cannot be forfeited, canceled, or altered,” at least not by the mere will of the individual.

Though Blackstone’s concept awarded citizenship to children of aliens born within the British Empire, it also posed obstinate impediments to immigrants wanting to enjoy the rights of freeborn Englishmen, not least the right to own land. The same principle of natural allegiance determined that an alien’s loyalty remained fastened to a foreign sovereign. Immigrants might become “naturalized” citizens only if they renounced old allegiances, swore new oaths of allegiance, and demonstrated over some designated number of years their loyalty to the adopted nation.

In the American environment, these rigid notions of national identity eroded amid the turbulent streams of migration pouring into the colonies. Outside New England, which remained an Anglo-American bastion restrictive to immigration, most American colonies competed with one another to draw immigrants. Some extended property rights to resident aliens, while others legislated their own naturalization laws, which were often more inclusive than English law. They tossed out religious barriers against Catholics, Jews, and Protestant dissenters and exempted Quakers and others from having to violate their faith by taking an oath of allegiance. South Carolina, among the most liberal, granted white Protestant immigrants who came into the colony all the rights and privileges “as if they had been born of English parents within the Province.” It even welcomed refugee debtors by prohibiting the collection of debts owed by aliens prior to migration.

By 1775, historians estimate that less than half the inhabitants of the 13 colonies were of English descent. British officials, wary of dissident aliens and fugitive debtors filling their American dominions, tried to inhibit immigration by restricting westward settlement and resisting permissive naturalization laws in the colonies. Among the grievances in the Declaration of Independence, one denounced the king for “obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners.”

But once they had a nation of their own, Americans worried about the dangers of aliens insinuating themselves into the highest reaches of power in the fragile young republic. In The Federalist Papers No. 68, Alexander Hamilton warned of foreign intrigue among those “deadly adversaries of republican government” who harbor desires “to gain an improper ascendant in our councils” and might raise “a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union.” Hamilton held this belief even though he was himself an immigrant to New York born in the British West Indies (as those who have seen the current eponymous Broadway musical know). Even though it’s hard to find evidence of actual plots, Hamilton and his fellow Federalists were especially worried that America’s frail, young confederation would fall prey to foreign intrigue emanating from jealous European empires (Britain, Spain, and France) not ready to relinquish their ambitions in North America.

The idea that the president of the United States must be a natural-born citizen originated apparently with John Jay, a friend and collaborator with Hamilton on The Federalist Papers. As president of the Continental Congress and as a diplomat during and after the Revolution , Jay developed a healthy distrust of sinister European powers abroad. Jay wrote to George Washington in Philadelphia during the Constitutional Convention: “Permit me to hint, whether it would not be wise and seasonable to provide a strong check to the admission of Foreigners into the administration of our national Government, and to declare expressly that the Command in chief of the American army shall not be given to, nor devolve on, any but a natural born Citizen.”

Washington thanked him for his “hint,” but the convention adopted language that was far more elastic. Article II, Section 1, specifies:

No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.

This language not only allowed immigrants such as Jay’s friend Hamilton to run for president, it also made George Washington eligible. Washington and Hamilton had been born British subjects; both became citizens of the United States on July 4, 1776, the day the nation was born.

How did that alchemical transformation happen on that specific day? As David Ramsay, a South Carolina historian, explained in the 1789 pamphlet, A Dissertation on the Manner of Acquiring the Character and Privileges of a Citizen of the United States, once King George cast Americans outside his protection and Parliament—in effect, declaring war on the colonies—the bond of natural allegiance between subject and sovereign was broken. The Declaration of Independence announced that the people of the United States, absolved of all allegiances to the British crown, were now citizens of new “Free and Independent states.” By this revolutionary stroke, nearly 3 million people “who had been subjects, became citizens,” though Ramsay took pains to clarify that “Negroes are inhabitants, not citizens,” that is, not among the “mass of free people, who collectively possess sovereignty.”

Ramsey was adamant that people could not claim American citizenship as a birthright unless they were born after the Declaration of Independence called the nation into existence. But he outlined additional paths to becoming an American that included residency within the United States. In a republic based on consent of the governed, he explained, simply living under the new government as a consenting adult demonstrated loyalty. This explains why the framers wanted American presidents not only to be natural-born citizens (or, for the time being, citizens at the time of adoption) but also to have lived 14 years as adults under the new government.

Ten of the first 12 presidents were born British subjects; for them and all future presidents the requirements of residency and citizenship would mitigate suspicion of lingering effects of “natural allegiance” to foreign sovereigns. The framers built into the Constitution an ingenious process of Americanization with proofs of birth, residency, and loyalty that expressed a new concept of citizenship in which individual consent and choice, as much as the “natural allegiance” derived from the accident of birth, determined one’s nationality.

Even if the framers were acting on genuine fears of foreign enemies, we should recognize they were also making room, even in the highest office of the land, for talented immigrants who threw themselves in with the revolutionary republic.Where and when people were born didn’t necessarily determine their national allegiance. Those “distinguished revolutionary patriots,” Constitutional scholar Joseph Story put it, “had entitled themselves to high honours in their adopted country.”

The framers did not allow their fears to close the door on the talent and ambition of immigrants who chose to shed old, and adopt new, allegiances—that is, they allowed newcomers to become American.

(Don H. Doyle is McCausland professor of history at the University of South Carolina and author of The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War (2015). This piece was posted first at Zocalo Public Square.) 

California: Government Transparency May See Its Way Clear to the November Ballot

OPEN AND ACCOUNTABLE-The California Legislative Transparency Act has moved a step closer to qualifying for the November ballot. More than 585,000 signatures (of the 930,000 gathered) have been submitted to the Secretary of State’s office by the Hold Politicians Accountable Committee. 

The measure would amend California’s Constitution to require all bills to be publicly posted online in their final form at least 72 hours before a vote on the Assembly or Senate floor, require all open legislative meetings to be video recorded and posted online within 24 hours, and guarantee the right of every individual to record and share videos of open legislative meetings. 

The Secretary of State will begin to notify all counties to begin the random sample of signatures to qualify the initiative for November. The Committee expects to file over 930,000 signatures which is well above the 643,000 required to qualify a constitutional amendment ballot measure on a random sample. 

The Act is supported by a growing bipartisan coalition including California Common Cause, California Forward, the California Chamber of Commerce, Californians Aware, the First Amendment Coalition, the Howard Jarvis Tax Association, the National Federation of Independent Business, and the California Black Chamber of Commerce, among others. 

“We’re grateful for the support our initiative is receiving from the hundreds of thousands of voters who have signed our petitions so far,” said former California State Senator Sam Blakeslee. “Voters are making it clear that they are fed up with special interest legislation being passed in the middle of the night, without time for input or careful consideration of how new laws impact them. We look forward to seeing these common sense reforms become a reality when all Californians have the opportunity to vote for this measure at the polls this November.” 

CA Fwd has been a strong advocate for citizens redistricting, the top-two primary and term limit reform, and believes these reforms have reduced partisan gridlock and encouraged bipartisan compromises. In 2014, CA Fwd released its Path Toward Trust, which included the 72-hour in print provision. 

“As longtime advocates of creating more transparency and accountability in our state government, California Forward is pleased that voters will have the opportunity to approve this measure at the polls in November,” said California Forward President and CEO Jim Mayer. “The California Legislature Transparency Act will significantly improve governance in California and go a long way toward reducing the influence of a few special interest groups over legislation that impacts all Californians.” 

To learn more about the California Legislature Transparency Act, visit: www.holdpoliticiansaccountable.org. 

(Ed Coghlan is a contributing editor and special correspondent for California Forward and the California Economic Summit, dealing with all matters related to California's sputtering economy and how we as a state can get it back on track. He is a veteran of television news at all levels and serves as a media consultant in his spare time.) Photo: Jon Connell/Flickr. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Politics Move Left, Americans Move Right

NEW GEOGRAPHY-In an election year in which the top likely candidates come from New York, big cities arguably dominate American politics more than at any time since New Deal. The dynamics of urban politics, which are characterized by high levels of inequality and racial tensions may be pushing Democrats ever further to the left and Republicans toward the inchoate resentment of Donald Trump.  

Yet, if politics are now being dominated by big cities along the coasts, the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data suggests that when it comes to their own lives, Americans are moving increasingly elsewhere, largely to generally Republican-leaning suburbs and Sunbelt states. In other words, politics and power are headed one way, demographics the other. 

Perhaps no American president has been less sympathetic to the suburbs than Barack Obama. Shaun Donovan, Obama’s first secretary of Housing and Urban Development, proclaimed the suburbs’ were “over” as people were “voting with their feet” and moving to dense, transit-oriented urban centers. More recently, Donovan’s successor, Julian Castro, has targeted suburbs by proposing to force them to densify and take more poor people into their communities. Other Democrats, notably California’s Jerry Brown, have sought to use concerns over climate change to make future suburban development all but impossible. 

This divergence between politics and how people choose to live has never been greater. As economist Jed Kolko has observed, the perceived “historic” shift back to the inner city has turned out to be a relatively brief phenomena. Since 2012, suburbs and exurbs, which have seven times as many people, again are growing faster than core cities. 

This is not likely to be a short-lived phenomena. Generally speaking, Kolko notes that an aging population tends to make the country more suburban. The overwhelming trend among seniors is not to move “back to the city” but to stay in or move out to suburban or exurban areas. Between 2000 and 2012, notes demographer Wendell Cox, 99.6 percent of the senior population increase in major metropolitan areas was in the suburbs, a gain of 4.3 million compared to the gain of 17,000 in the urban core. 

There is also the well-demonstrated tendency for people entering their 30s, prime child-bearing age, to move to suburban locations for safety, space and better schools. Here’s the basic score: Core counties last year lost a net 185,000 domestic migrants, while the suburban counties gained 187,000. Rather than a reversal of suburbanizing trends, we see something of an acceleration. 

Primarily Republican-leaning areas may be losing their political power for now, but their demographic growth is relentless. Like the suburbs, the sprawling Sunbelt metros were widely predicted by urban pundits to be heading toward an inevitable extinction.     

Yet the 2015 census data shows something quite different: Virtually every fast-growing metro region in the country is located far from the Eastern Seaboard, and increasingly outside of California.

Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Atlanta and Phoenix each gained more people last year than either New York or Los Angeles, which are three to four times larger. 

Among America’s 53 largest metropolitan areas, nine of the 10 fastest-growing ones are in the Sunbelt: Austin, Orlando, Raleigh, Houston, Las Vegas, San Antonio, Dallas-Fort Worth, Nashville and Tampa-St. Petersburg. The only outlier is Denver, which has become a destination for people and companies fleeing higher priced areas, particularly the West Coast. 

Perhaps even more revealing are the trends in domestic migration. The leaders in total domestic net migration parallel almost precisely those that have experienced the strongest total population growth, led by Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and Phoenix; together these metro areas added 150,000 net domestic residents. In percentage terms the big winners are Austin, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Raleigh, and Orlando. 

So which states are losing out among domestic migrants? The biggest loser is the home of our likely next president. New York experienced a net out-migration of 160,000 between 2014 and 2015. Over the past five years its metropolitan area has lost 701,000 net domestic migrants after suffering a population loss of nearly 2 million in the first decade of the new millennium. Chicago and Los Angeles also have experienced net out-migration as have some cities -- such as San Jose and Washington, D.C. -- even as they experienced impressive economic booms. 

These latest numbers confirm the likelihood that highly suburbanized areas, particularly in the Sunbelt, will continue to represent our demographic future. For all the hype and hysteria surrounding the urban revival, dense cities are not irresistible lures to most people. For the most part, they are experiencing sub-normal, and even declining, growth. The most urban of our urban cores, New York City, illustrates this slackening of population. For one year, the Big Apple grew at 1.2 percent (2011), above the national average of 0.7 percent. Yet, its growth dropped in 2015 to 0.6 percent, well below the national average. Brooklyn’s population growth declined in half from 2011 to 2015, while Manhattan’s declined by two-thirds. The only borough to show strong growth has been its poorest, the Bronx. 

None of this suggests that dense core cities are irrelevant to the future. As economist Kolko suggests, inner city gentrification, particularly close to the urban core, has accompanied strong income growth and remains attractive to relatively small parts of the population: the highly educated, the affluent childless, single as well as the uber-rich. These places loom large also because that’s where the media is increasingly concentrated. And with a big city, East Coast-oriented person in the Oval Office next year, they could find themselves more influential, at least in the short run, than at any time in recent history. 

This divergence between power and population sets the stage for future political conflicts, particularly given likely Democratic Party electoral gains this year. Attempts to crack down on suburban housing and resource industries, notably fossil fuels, seems likely to hit hardest many places that are growing quickly, and which generally lean to the GOP. 

It could well be, as some progressives have forecast for over a decade, that the movement of New Yorkers and Californians, combined with the growth of minorities, in places like Texas and Arizona will paint these places Democratic blue. This seems reasonable, but what happens when Washington adopts policies that clearly hurt the new suburban homeowners, and the industries that have sparked Sunbelt growth? 

The new Texans and Arizonans may well be more socially liberal than the current denizens, but one has to wonder if they would like to see the prospect of better professional opportunities and affordable homes squelched by Washington’s urban-centric elite. 

This could turn out to be a bad election for those middle American aspirations, but over time progressive triumphalism could engender a grassroots rebellion capable of overturning the 2016 election results in shockingly fast fashion.


Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com. He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, “The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us,” will be published in April by Agate. He is also author of “The New Class Conflict,” “The City: A Global History,” and “The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050.” He lives in Orange County, CA. This piece first appeared by Real Clear Politics.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Don’t like Trump’s Views on Immigration? Blame California!

PERSPECTIVE--Three out of every four Californians have an unfavorable view of Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee for president. In a poll taken before his opponents dropped out, four of 10 California Republicans would be “upset” if he won the nomination.

California has been making national headlines with bold liberal policies in the past few weeks, so the state’s coolness to Trump—and the antipathy on display when he visited the state two weeks ago—might seem unsurprising. After all, on Trump’s signature issues–demonizing Latino immigrants and building a wall to keep them out—he is far outside the state’s mainstream; a recent poll shows that less than a quarter of Californians agree with his stances on “illegal” and Muslim immigration, and just 16 percent of Californians support widespread deportations.

But Californians who might be tempted to pat themselves on the back for their state’s open-mindedness should make no mistake. When it comes to insulting immigrants and building walls to keep them out, the Golden State started it.

Today’s anti-immigrant campaigns began not with New York billionaires or white conservatives in rural America, but with middle-class professionals, both Democrats and Republicans, in California. For most of U.S. history, fomenting anti-immigrant sentiment was a project of labor unions and working people who feared job competition from newcomers. In these movements—particularly those directed at Chinese people in the 19th century—California was a national leader.

Trump draws votes mostly from a 21st-century version of that working-class demographic. But his rhetoric on immigration is much newer—it comes straight from an anti-immigrant movement begun 25 years ago by educated, mostly white California suburbanites from across the political spectrum.

Trump has famously said he will force Mexico to pay for a new wall on the entire southern border through a variety of pressure tactics, among them increasing fees on all Mexican border crossers. While this idea may sound very Republican today, my University of Oregon colleague, the political scientist Dan HoSang, has shown that it originated with our own Democratic U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, former mayor of liberal San Francisco.

In 1993, the newly elected Feinstein became the first California senator in decades to make immigration control a major political issue. She wrote in the Los Angeles Times that “illegal” immigrants cost the state billions and filled its jails with criminals; she brought that same message to talk shows and the U.S. Senate. How to crack down? Feinstein’s proposal: Charge a $1 toll on anyone entering the country and use the money to increase funding for the Border Patrol.

When it comes to insulting immigrants and building walls to keep them out, the Golden State started it.

Trump also wants to end the birthright citizenship that is currently guaranteed by the Constitution. That idea first picked up steam in California, too. It was proposed in the early 1990s by Simi Valley’s Republican Congressman, Elton Gallegly, and soon gained the support of a neighboring congressman, Democrat Anthony Beilenson.

I was in high school in Los Angeles in 1994 when California voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 187, a ballot initiative to deny public services, including education and health care, to undocumented immigrants. In hindsight, most remember this as the signature issue of Republican Governor Pete Wilson. Yet observers at the time noted that Wilson had previously focused on ensuring that the state’s agricultural interests had as many immigrant workers as they needed. It was actually the stand of the liberal Feinstein, a fierce political rival of Wilson’s, that “inspired” the conservative governor’s turn to a strongly anti-immigrant agenda.

Furthermore, the grassroots energy for the proposition did not come from the working-class white folks that support Trump today. Rather, both HoSang and another scholar, Robin Dale Jacobson, found that Proposition 187 activists were middle-class professionals: accountants and engineers, secretaries and educators. Their rhetoric did not focus on job competition as earlier anti-immigrant movements in the United States had. Rather, they decried “billions of tax dollars” spent on public services for immigrants and accused them of importing “rape, robbery, assault”—the same allegations Trump is making today.

California’s politics may have changed since those days, but many Californian people and ideas of that time, having relocated to Trump country, are part of today’s anti-immigrant campaigns. Trump swept Georgia and Alabama, two states that passed high-profile anti-immigrant laws in recent years, and whose immigration histories I have spent a decade researching. Those laws bear the fingerprints of California. In Alabama, the anti-immigrant law was pushed by the Alabama Federation of Republican Women—whose president, Elois Zeanah, was a longtime city councilwoman and mayor in her 25-year home, the LA suburb of Thousand Oaks.

As for Georgia, its grassroots anti-immigrant movement began just a few months after Proposition 187’s passage, in the fast-growing Atlanta suburb of Cobb County. Members of a local neighborhood group borrowed the pro-187 campaign’s language in a letter-writing campaign to elected officials: Immigrants “drain our economy,” “crowd our school system,” and are responsible for “criminal activity.”

Most of Cobb’s residents at that time were interstate transplants, including thousands of ex-Californians. One of them, a former resident of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, wrote to his mayor: “At one time The Valley was 90+% white. The streets were very clean. Crime was very low. All of that has changed. During the last 10 years the Valley has been invaded by people from Mexico and all points south. … It is happening right here in Georgia. We need to stop it before it gets out of hand.”

Cobb remains the hub of the state’s anti-immigrant movement: one of the first Georgia counties to pass a local anti-immigrant ordinance, and home to the state’s most prominent anti-immigrant group, the Dustin Inman Society. The society’s mission? To prevent the coming of “Georgiafornia”—“the chaos that has befallen the once wealthy and desirable state of California,” thanks to “illegal” immigration.

Californians can be proud that, as a whole, they no longer support the anti-immigrant agenda. But before they smugly dismiss nativism as a faraway phenomenon in which they are not implicated, Californians should remember their own recent history. Anti-immigrant sentiment has been present throughout U.S. history. But it was Californians who renewed it at the end of the 20th century, giving it the legs Trump has commandeered on his run into the 21st.

(Julie M. Weise is assistant professor of history at the University of Oregon and author of Corazón de Dixie: Mexicanos in the U.S. South since 1910. She was previously an assistant professor at California State University, Long Beach. This perspective originated at Zocalo Public Square.


Breaking News: 'There Is No Migrant Crisis'!

EDITOR’S PICK-Search the Internet for articles on the so-called "migrant crisis," and half a million results pop up in a matter of seconds. 

There's just one problem: There is no such crisis.

"A right that only exists for the rich it not a right at all."
—Alex Scrivener, Global Justice Now

"What we call a 'migrant crisis,' is actually a crisis of global injustice caused by war, poverty, and inequality," said Global Justice Now director Nick Dearden, introducing a new briefing that draws attention to the multiple crises that are actually forcing people to relocate and calls for "free movement for everyone."

Published Monday, the briefing—Migrant Crisis or Poverty Crisis? Why Free Movement is Vital in the Battle for Global Justice (pdf)—lays blame at the feet of overlapping root causes including: 

  • Poverty and economic inequality;
  • War and conflict;
  • Climate change;
  • Unfair trade deals; and
  • Colonialism, "or at least the long term legacy of it."

"Framing the increased flow of people fleeing war and poverty as a 'migrant crisis' misses the point," the document reads. "It assumes that it is the arrival of these people, rather than the situations they are trying to escape, that is the problem."

In turn, cracking down on the migrants themselves is "not the solution," Global Justice Now declares.

"Rich countries, with the help of the highly profitable security industry, have tried their best to use cruel migration controls, fences, walls and even guns to force people to accept lives of violence and destitution," the briefing says. "This is not the solution. No matter how high the walls of Fortress Europe become, the only way to solve this problem is to deal with its root causes."

Dearden added: "To demonize those making a rational choice on the part of themselves, their family and their community, obscures the truth. Migration is bringing those of us in Europe face to face with the reality of the brutal and unjust world our leaders have constructed."

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), an estimated 184,887 migrants and refugees have entered Europe by sea in 2016, arriving in Italy, Greece, Cyprus, and Spain. At least 1,357 have died in the same time period.

Instead of "pulling up the drawbridge," Global Justice Now calls for governments to work toward freedom of movement, supported by "properly funded public services" and "decent employment laws," among other things.

Not to do so amounts to "apartheid on a global scale," said Alex Scrivener, the author of the briefing and GJN policy officer.

"It's unacceptable that people from rich countries are free to go almost anywhere in the world while people from the global south are denied freedom of movement, even when they are fleeing war and extreme poverty," Scrivener argued. "A right that only exists for the rich it not a right at all. There's one rule for 'expat' Europeans and North Americans and another for the rest of the world."

The Global Justice Now briefing also calls for an end to immigration detention as soon as possible.

On Saturday, simultaneous protests took place at more than a dozen immigrant detention centers across the UK and in The Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, and Iceland. A mass "Refugees Welcome" rally is planned for May 25 in London, while the UK-based Stand Up to Racism coalition is organizing a major aid convoy to the Calais camp in France in conjunction with trade unions, the People's Assembly Against Austerity, and others beginning June 18. 

(Deirdre Fulton writes for Common Dreams where this piece was first posted.)


More Articles ...